Aug 12, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
As he traversed the grounds of Oak Hill Country Club early in the week of the PGA Championship, Jason Dufner picked up some acorns that had fallen from some of the course’s thousands of oak trees, promising he’d take them home to his Alabama property and plant them.
By the time he was done early Sunday evening and departed from the Rochester suburb of Pittsford, the 36-year-old Dufner had picked up something else – namely, the Wanamaker Trophy, along with his first major title.
With a final round of 68, Dufner finished at 10-under-par 270, and beat veteran Jim Furyk by two shots. At the same time, he earned a fair amount of atonement for letting a late lead in the 2011 PGA Championship slip away. He also became the first Auburn University graduate to win a major.
“I always thought that it (the 2011 defeat) would make me confident the next time around,“ said Dufner. “It’s a great accomplishment. Hopefully, it will lead me to bigger things.”
By four shots, Dufner recorded the lowest 72-hole winning score in any major competition at Oak Hill, topping the mark of 274 that Jack Nicklaus recorded winning his record fifth PGA in 1980. He also went 27 consecutive holes without a bogey on the weekend on his way to the $1.445 million first prize.
Long known for his placid, laid-back demeanor and the “Dufnering” craze that exploded on Twitter earlier this year, Dufner had struggled for most of 2013, but burst into the picture at Oak Hill with a course-record 63 in Friday’s second round.
As the final round started, though, Dufner was one shot back of Furyk, who was trying to gain his second major title 10 years after his first, in the 2003 U.S. Open.
A terrific par save on 1 kept Furyk one ahead of Dufner, and they also parred the next two holes. Dufner said that those early pars settled him down and that he remained calm for the rest of the round.
Furyk made par on 4, too, but Dufner’s birdie on the only par five on the front nine tied him for the lead at nine under.
Then, on the same 5th hole where he double-bogeyed the day before to give up the lead, Dufner spun his wedge approach to two feet and, with his birdie, became the first player in competitive history at Oak Hill to rise to 10 under par, grabbing the outright lead.
On the par-three 6th, Furyk, from 35 feet, drained a long birdie putt, and with Dufner’s par they were both 10 under. Even though Henrik Stenson stayed close for a long while, it started to take the feel of a duel between Furyk and Dufner for the crown, especially after both of them made long par putts on 7 to stay at 10 under.
Yet on the par-four 8th, Dufner drilled another wedge to tap-in range for a birdie to get to 11 under and reclaim the outright lead, this time for good. Furyk bogeyed on 9, and so with nine holes to play, Dufner, who blazed through a front-nine 32, led by two shots.
They both strung together pars on the first six holes of the back nine (10 through 15), so the margin remained two, which left Dufner with half the leading margin he carried to the final four holes of the PGA two years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club, where he ended up losing a playoff to Keegan Bradley.
But this was not 2011. On the par-four 16th, Dufner’s wedge shot spun back to a foot and a tap-in birdie, so even though Furyk made his own birdie on 16, the margin remained two.
A hole later, at 17, Furyk pulled his approach into the left rough, left his chip short and bogeyed. But Dufner three-putted, so he still had to navigate the long par-four 18th in par to be sure of victory.
Though Dufner drove it into the right rough on the final hole, so did Furyk, whose approach short led to another bogey and a final-round 71, putting Furyk at 272 and rendering Dufner’s own bogey a moot point.
“I have no regrets,” said Furyk. “I played my heart out. If I could go back, I would love to make par on 17 and 18 and put some heat on him (Dufner), and I wasn’t able to do that.”
Among the chasers, Stenson got to nine under with a birdie on 13, but bogeys on 14 and 17 slowed his bid and he finished alone in third at 273. The Swede that Stenson was paired with, Jonas Blixt, used birdies on 10, 13, 14 and 16 to rise to eight under and get an outside chance, but he bogeyed two of the last four holes and, at 274, settled for fourth place.
The golfers on Sunday were greeted by the same blue skies and sunshine as they found the day before, but with less wind to worry about. Thus, low rounds were available again.
Bradley surged to six under par through 13 holes and threatened the record low round in a major, but bogeys on 14 and 18 left him with a 66, tied with playing partner Hideki Matsuyama and Graeme McDowell for low round of the early finishers.
Jason Day and Scott Piercy attempted a charge from the middle of the pack. Each started at even par and each reached six under par through 13 holes. But Day fell back with bogeys on the last three holes, while Piercy’s bogeys on 15 and 18 left him with a 65 (the day’s low round) to finish at 275, five under par, tied with Masters champion Adam Scott for fifth place.
Never really in the picture after a double bogey ended his opening round, Tiger Woods finished with a 70 and a total of 284, and remains without a major title since 2008.
After a disastrous third round, Phil Mickelson played in the first full pairing of the morning, shot a 72 that included yet another triple bogey (at 5) and quietly savored his British Open win from the month before. Defending champion Rory McIlroy tied for eighth at 277 after a final-round 70.
Early in the day, Tim Clark, who finished third in the 2003 PGA at Oak Hill, provided the most spectacular shot when his hybrid on the 220-yard par-three 11th took two bounces dove into the hole for an ace, the only one of the tournament.
Perhaps it was meant for Dufner from the start. He and his wife, Amanda, stayed with the same Rochester-area family, the Kirchers, that housed a young Lee Trevino in 1968 when he won the U.S. Open at Oak Hill.
Forty-five years later, the Kirchers got to host another golfer’s major breakthrough, and Bradley, in a show of class, stayed around to give Dufner a hug as he exited the 18th green. Bradley had long teased Dufner about the Wanamaker Trophy replica he keeps in his home.
“Now, I’ve got one,” said Dufner.