It has been a long time coming for former Auburn golfer Jason Dufner, but after several close calls, including a playoff loss in the 2011 PGA Championship in Atlanta, his time finally came on Sunday to prove himself on one of the biggest stages in golf.
Holding off Jim Furyk with a pinpoint round of 68, Dufner won the 2013 PGA Championship in record-setting fashion at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., to become a major champion for the first time in his career.
“I had an unbelievable day ball-striking,” Dufner said. “The putter wasn’t probably my strongest point this week. I have struggled with it this year and I knew that if I wanted to compete I really had to strike it good. That puts a lot of pressure on me, but I was confident with it. I felt like I could get around this golf course under par by striking the ball well.”
A winner twice on the PGA Tour in 2012, Dufner has struggled with his game during much of this year’s schedule, but last weekend showed a glimpse of what was to come.
Without a Top 10 finish heading into the U.S. Open in June, Dufner finished fourth to gagetner some positive energy flowing. Following a Top 25 finish at the British Open, Dufner again finished fourth last week at the World Gold Championship Bridgestone Invitational to head into this week with plenty of confidence.
Setting the tone this week with a first round score of 68, Dufner put his stamp on the championship with a second round score of 63. That tied the record for the lowest score ever recorded in a major championship and it also distanced Dufner from much of the rest of the field.
Coming back to the group on Saturday as he clawed and scratched his way to a round of 71, Dufner entered Sunday trailing the 43-year old Furyk by one shot.
Dufner can finally breathe easy
It didn’t take him long to show that he wasn’t going away in this year’s tournament. Coming back from the disappointment of the loss two years ago to Bradley when he led by five shots with four holes remaining, Dufner knocked it stiff on both four and five to build early momentum. Another laser shot at number eight set up a birdie put him in great position heading to the back nine.
Matching Furyk shot for shot, Dufner couldn’t get a putt to drop as he parred out until another birdie at the 16th hole put him at -12 and gave him a two-shot cushion over Furyk with the other contenders having long fell by the wayside. Despite a pair of closing bogeys on the final two holes, Dufner won with room to spare away as he raised the Wanamaker Trophy for his first major title.
After Saturday's round Dufner said he planned to watch the scoreboard after he got into the round to help him figure out how aggressively he needed to play because he was focused on finding a way to win it, not just have another top five finish.
"Guys kind of got close a little bit there early, but I was playing with Jim who was the leader," Dufner noted. "I picked up a couple of birdies on four and five and I knew I was around the lead. I actually started looking at it when I made the turn (going from hole nine to hole 10).
"I was two up at the turn and I felt like if I could step on it...we have got some birdie holes there. Ten is kind of a birdie hole as well as 13 and 14 are birdie holes. I felt like if I could step on it a bit I could distance myself a little bit. That was my thought process today. I wasn't going to let up. I was going to keep trying to make birdies, keep trying to put pressure on the rest of the field. I think sometimes when you get careful you make mistakes."
“I was just determined not to let this day slip away,” he said. “I was going to give myself a chance coming to 18 to win this.
"It hasn't hit me yet," he added. "I still can't believe this is happening to me. To come back from a couple of years ago in this championship when I lost to Keegan (Bradley) in a playoff and win feels really, really good."
The former Auburn walk-on had high praise for Furyk, who led by a stroke going into the final round. "He is a great champion. He has played so well in so many majors and he has been there before so it was a tough test for me. The golf course was tough, but my name will always be on this trophy and nobody can ever take that away from me. It was a great accomplishment for me and I am really excited about it."
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