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Dufner’s

Redemption

The most laid-back character in professional golf used a combination of supreme ball-striking, heart and belief in capturing the first major title of his career, writes Paul Prendergast.

AFP

“I come across as a pretty cool customer,” Dufner said moments after sinking the final putt. “But there are definitely some nerves out there, especially when you’re trying to win a major championship.” 36

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T

AFP

Clockwise from above: Furyk held a slender oneshot lead heading into the final round but was overtaken by Dufner’s brilliance; the champion with his two trophies – Amanda Dufner rivalled the Wanamaker in terms of Twitter mentions; Bradley, who beat his friend in 2011, embraced Dufner on the 18th green 38

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wo years ago, Jason Dufner stood on the 15th tee in the final round at Atlanta Athletic Club with a five-shot lead and more than just a hand on the Wanamaker Trophy. Indeed, such was his stranglehold on the tournament that the weighty piece of silverware was all but in his grasp. The US PGA Championship might not be the most glamorous of the majors but regardless: the cauldron of major championship pressure does strange things to a man seeking his first, and Dufner crumbled. Three bogeys, combined with a couple of moments of brilliance from Keegan Bradley, and he had lost his lead. Bradley would go on to win on the second playoff hole. Fast forward two years at Oak Hill Country Club and nothing got any easier for Dufner in his bid to bury any pervading Atlanta demons – but bury them he did, with a pure shot-making display to win the 95th edition

of the championship by two strokes from Jim Furyk. His maiden major championship accomplishment, however, wasn’t built on ballstriking alone. Heart and belief played just as an important role. While post-championship attention has focused intently on Dufner slowly suffocating the field by hitting fairway after fairway and green after green down the stretch, it’s easy to forget that he also one-putted seven consecutive holes through the middle of the round, taking a mere eleven in total on the front nine, to quickly erase the slender lead Furyk had taken into the final round. Throughout his final round 68, the Dufner’s demeanour never wavered, as we’ve come to expect. A thigh slap after shaving the hole for birdie on the 12th might have made the top-10 in his career ‘shows of emotion’. We k now it ’s in t here, t he drive and competitive spirit. He’s not as unflappable as he seems but at age 36, he does a great job HKGOLFER.COM

in controlling his emotions and not letting it affect him for too long when – on those rare circumstances – it does bubble to the surface. A wedge flipped into the creek fronting the fourth green at Merion during the second round of the US Open was a rare anomaly, although he recovered quickly and went on to tie for fourth behind Justin Rose. “I come across as a pretty cool customer I guess, but there are definitely some nerves out there, especially when you’re trying to win a major championship,” Dufner would say once the Wanamaker battle was won. The ‘battle’ was not only an internal struggle and about making amends for two years ago; or to revive what has been a less than stellar year on the PGA Tour in 2013. As the holes began dwindle around a proven championship test in Oak Hill, Dufner was challenged in a real sense by having to ‘out grind’ the ultimate grinder in playing partner Furyk, who hung tough all day as only he knows how. A number of players well out of contention had taken advantage of Oak Hill earlier on the final day. Scott Piercy’s five-under 65 was the round of the day, Graeme McDowell, Hideki Matsuyama and Keegan Bradley all posted 66s and there were a slew of 67s in the still conditions. World No 1 Tiger Woods was not among those taking advantage of the softened course, although a final round 70 tied his best of the week. However, it left him among the ‘also-rans’ in a tie for 40th and consigned him to another eight months of introspection before his next chance at a 15th major at Augusta next spring (see sidebar). Furyk, too, had his own demons to exorcise after losing four 54-hole leads in 2012, most notably at the U.S. Open at Olympic and the Bridgestone Championship when he double bogeyed the final hole to lose to Bradley. There was also a well documented singles loss to Sergio Garcia at the Ryder Cup, when leading by a hole with two to play. As well as Dufner played, Furyk made him earn it despite his own ball-striking struggles on the front nine. It took him until the ninth hole to find his first fairway of the day – which he promptly bogeyed – yet, somehow, he was still in the thick of it. When Dufner wedged to within kick-in distance on the 16th for the third time on Sunday, he might have allowed himself the luxury of thinking he at last had Furyk’s measure. However, the experienced American kept tensions high by draining a left-to-right 12 footer for his own birdie to maintain the two-shot deficit heading into Oak Hill’s tough finish. At this point in the round, Dufner was fourunder for the day, and despite bogeys on the two HKGOLFER.COM

Throughout his final round 68, Dufner’s demeanour never wavered, as we’ve come to expect. A thigh slap after shaving the hole for birdie on the 12th might have made the top-10 in his career ‘shows of emotion’.

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fairways. He seemed to be on the green with a chance for birdie on almost all the greens, and heck, if he got hot with the putter today, who knows what he would have shot. “He (Dufner) didn’t miss very many fairways and he hit some really good iron shots. I look back; he hit it a foot on five, eight and 16. I mean, tap in birdies. I don’t know if it makes anything easy or less easy, but I don’t look at it as I lost the golf tournament. I look at it as I got beat by somebody that played better today.” In a touching gesture, Dufner’s conqueror of 2011, Keegan Bradley, returned from the airport with his girlfriend to cheer on his friend and Ryder Cup team mate. It now seems certain the pair will be reunited again for the US side to face the Internationals at the Presidents Cup next month.

“I’m proud of you,” a beaming Bradley told him as the pair met for a ‘bro-hug’ at the side of the 18th green. Dufner appreciated the moment and elaborated further on the significance of the win in context of what he had endured two years previously. “I was probably over what happened in Atlanta, 95 per cent of it, by the time we got back home at Auburn,” Dufner said. “You always carry those scars with you, he (Bradley) always jabbed at me a little bit about having one of these (trophies) in his house, and thanks for giving it to him and all that stuff. “And now I’ve got one, too. My name will always be on this trophy, and nobody can take that away from me, so it’s a great accomplishment for me and I’m really excited about it.” Not that it always shows, but we’ll take his word for it.

Woods didn’t break par in any round and his failure to win a major this year, extending his streak to eighteen since winning the 2008 US Open, was underlined by the ignominy of finishing his final round before the leaders had teed off.

In a touching gesture, Dufner’s conqueror of 2011, Keegan Bradley, returned from the airport with his girlfriend to cheer on his friend and Ryder Cup team mate. It now seems certain the pair will be reunited again for the US side to face the Internationals at the Presidents Cup next month. course record which had been shared by his idol Ben Hogan. “For me to be competitive on this type of golf course, I felt like I had to have a great week ball-striking and I was able to do it. I hit a lot of fairways. If I did miss the fairways, I wasn’t in the thick, thick stuff, so I could manage to get it up by the greens,” said Dufner. “When I did hit the fairways, I hit a ton of greens, and that was the difference for me,” he continued. “My scrambling was pretty good today. I see I only didn’t get one ball up and down. That was on the last. But I felt like if I wanted to compete this week, I really had to put one of my best weeks ball-striking so far this year.” Furyk couldn’t be accused of losing this one, even with consecutive bogeys to finish. He seemed to be at peace with his effort and in some way, must have felt that he silenced a few critics who had been on his back after 2012. “I have a lot of respect for the way Jason played and how well he struck the ball,” said Furyk. “He seemed to be in the middle of most

AFP

Neither Stenson nor Blixt (above) could produce the final round each needed to become Sweden’s first male major winner; since winning The Masters in April, Scott (opposite) has been a feature of major championships, but a level-par round of 70 on Sunday at the PGA wasn’t enough

supremely long par-4 finishing holes, it was clear the best player in the field on the day had won this championship. For 16 of the final 18 holes, Dufner has been in a different league. That being said, at the beginning of the final round, there was not an undeserving contender for the final major of the year among the leading pairings. Furyk, after his travails of last season and more recent good form in Canada and at Akron, was certainly due a turnaround in fortunes. Henrik Stenson, on a fantastic run of top-five performances over the past month, including a second place finish at The Open, was the man in form and looked likely in the final round but kept missing fairways at crucial times to temper his run at becoming Sweden’s first male major winner. Adam Scott, reigning Masters champion and a contender in virtually every major he enters these days, once again got himself in contention. But in the end, it was Dufner who stood tallest and iced the cake after shooting 63 on Friday to tie the all-time major low score and break the

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WOODS’ MAJOR-LESS STREAK CONTINUES

Tiger Woods started the week at Oak Hill admitting that major No 15 is proving to be the hardest one of all to win. And so it continued, as despite another commanding performance in winning his eighth WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the previous week, Woods finished his tilt a distant 14 strokes behind champion Jason Dufner. Woods didn’t break par in any round and his failure to win a major this year, extending his streak to eighteen since winning the 2008 US Open, was underlined by the ignominy of finishing his final round before the leaders had teed off. Even his final day red shirt featured large slabs of grey, as if synonymous with

his fortunes. “It’s more frustrating not being in it,” said Woods, “I put four good rounds together last week, unfortunately it wasn’t this week.” Woods has put together plenty of magnificent rounds together this year in regular events, winning five times and emphatically reclaiming the world No 1 ranking. He entered every major as the favourite with his game appearing razor sharp, only to fall short on each occasion. His charge at Augusta was marred by a triple bogey at the 15th during round two after his pitch caromed off the flag back into the pond fronting the green. From there, he narrowly avoided disqualification and was instead penalised two strokes for dropping his ball in the wrong position. Despite this, he still tied for fourth behind Adam Scott, followed that with a distant tie for 32nd at the US Open and tied for sixth at Muirfield. “I was close in two of them,” said Woods. “I was right there and certainly had a chance to win the Masters and the British this year. The other two, I just didn’t hit it good enough. Just the way it goes.” Woods will actually break a Jack Nicklaus major record when he tees up at Augusta next year – but not the one he is chasing. The time since Woods’ last major will edge to within two months of six years by next April. From his first major title in 1962 until his last in 1986 at age 46, Nicklaus never had to wait that length of time between victories. Woods will turn 38 on 30 December.

2013 USPGA Championship Results

AFP

Despite enjoying plenty of success on the regular Tour this year, Woods (above) was major-less in 2013, leaving his task of reaching Jack Nicklaus’ record major haul of 18 all the more difficult 42

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1

Jason Dufner

USA

68 63 71 68

270

US$1,445,000

2

Jim Furyk

USA

65 68 68 71

272

US$865,000

3

Henrik Stenson

SWE

68 66 69 70

273

US$545,000

4

Jonas Blixt

SWE

68 70 66 70

274

US$385,000

5=

Scott Piercy

USA

67 71 72 65

275

US$304,000

Adam Scott

AUS

65 68 72 70

275

US$304,000

7

David Toms

USA

71 69 69 67

276

US$259,000

8=

Jason Day

AUS

67 71 72 67

277

US$206,250

Zach Johnson

USA

69 70 70 68

277

US$206,250

Dustin Johnson

USA

72 71 65 69

277

US$206,250

Rory McIlroy

NIR

69 71 67 70

277

US$206,250

12= Graeme McDowell

NIR

70 69 73 66

278

US$132,785

Boo Weekley

USA

72 69 70 67

278

US$132,785

Marc Leishman

AUS

70 70 70 68

278

US$132,785

Marc Warren

SCO

74 67 68 69

278

US$132,785

Roberto Castro

USA

68 69 71 70

278

US$132,785

Kevin Streelman

USA

70 72 66 70

278

US$132,785

Steve Stricker

USA

68 67 70 73

278

US$132,785

19= Keegan Bradley

USA

69 72 72 66

279

US$93,166

JPN

72 68 73 66

279

US$93,166

Hideki Matsuyama

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