Two years ago, Jason Dufner was poised for his career breakthrough at the PGA Championship, only to squander a four-shot lead in the last four holes and lose a playoff to Keegan Bradley.
Fast-forward to Friday afternoon at Oak Hill Country Club in suburban Rochester, where the 36-year-old Dufner took a run at golf immortality before settling for a course record and claiming the halfway lead in the year’s final major.
With a seven-under-par 63, Dufner broke the Oak Hill course mark first set by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange, and then matched by Webb Simpson earlier in the day. He finished at nine-under-par 131, two shots clear of Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk at day’s end.
Dufner is the 12th player in PGA history to post 63, and the 24th overall in a major, and his 131 ties the low 36-hole total in the tournament’s history, set six times before.
Ironically, the last major 63 came from Steve Stricker in the 2011 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, the site of Dufner’s heartbreak - and Stricker just happened to be paired with Dufner for the first two rounds at Oak Hill.
With those memories of what happened in 2011 still fresh in his mind, Dufner, who shot an opening-round 68, took dead aim at an Oak Hill course softened by a full morning of rain that left it close to defenseless.
The spark came at the par-four 2nd hole. From 105 yards out, Dufner’s sand wedge hit past the hole, then spun back in for an eagle two. The usually unflappable Dufner let out a fist pump and high-fived playing partner Steve Stricker as the Oak Hill crowd roared.
Sufficiently fueled, Dufner quickly charged up the board, adding a long birdie putt on 4 and a birdie on 5 to turn in 31, within sight of the top spot.