Jason Dufner had to wait for two years, but redemption was his Sunday afternoon at the PGA Championship. Using three front-nine birdies to leapfrog overnight leader Jim Furyk, Dufner was able to use a 2-under 68 to secure his first major title with a two-shot victory at Oak Hill.
Here are 5 Things to take away from the final major of the 2013 season:
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1. BREAKTHROUGH: Two years ago, Jason Dufner had a four-shot lead with four to play, only to lose the PGA Championship to Keegan Bradley in a playoff at Atlanta Athletic Club.
He didn’t leave anything to doubt this time around, using one of the best ball-striking performances in recent memory in holding off an impressive leaderboard of stars Sunday.
Dufner, who fired a 63 to set an Oak Hill record Friday, made a statement early, picking up a two-putt birdie on the par-5 4th hole and then hitting the shot of the day into the toughest hole on the course, knocking his approach into the par-4 5th to 2 feet for another easy birdie and the outright lead.
He never trailed again, only being tied by Furyk a hole later.
“It’s been a tough day; it was a long day, tough golf course – and it probably just hasn’t hit me yet. I can’t believe this is happening to me. Come back from a couple years ago in this championship, when I lost to Keegan (Bradley) in a playoff, to win feels really really good,” Dufner said. “It’s a great feeling to actually win one of these now.”
Oak Hill is known for a difficult trio of closing holes, but Dufner put the nail in the proverbial coffin with another fantastic approach at the par-4 16th, sending his second shot 5 feet past and spinning it back to less than 18 inches. A pair of closing bogeys made it a bit interesting, but Furyk suffered the same fate.
Dufner has a good history at the PGA, finishing T-5 or better in three of his last four starts in the year’s final major. This is his fifth career top-5 finish in a major.
“I just decided that I was going to be confident, you know and really put my best foot forward, play aggressive and try to win this thing. I wasn’t going to just play scared or soft,” Dufner said. “The last two holes were a little unfortunate; I wish i could have closed out with no bogeys, but I’m happy to get the job done.
“It’s a big step for my career.”
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2. FURYK’S FRUSTRATIONS: Jim Furyk has held four 54-hole leads in majors. He’s converted on just one – and that was more than 10 years ago at the 2003 U.S. Open.
The search for Major No. 2 will continue for the 43-year-old after a 1-over 71 Sunday for his third second-place finish in a major over his career. It was his best career finish at a PGA Championship, with a T-6 in 1997 his previous best.
“I played a solid round of golf. I hit some awkward shots on the front nine; I was kind of missing some shots up the left side of the fairway, kind of figured that out a little too late,” said Furyk.
Furyk battled hard Sunday, picking up a birdie on No. 6 to jump back into a tie for the lead after Dufner had birdied Nos. 4 and 5 with short putts. But a bogey at No. 9 after a poor chip from the rough gave Dufner a two-shot lead heading to the back nine.
Bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18 failed to put pressure on Dufner and Furyk had to settle for a major disappointment for the second consecutive season. He also held the 54-hole lead at the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
“I feel like I struck the ball really well on the back nine. I think not making birdie at 13 with a wedge in my hand, not making birdie at 14 with a wedge in my hand . . . I really don’t feel like I did anything wrong on 17-18; I hit some good solid shots that didn’t turn out right and I made a couple bogeys,” said Furyk. “I wanted to keep the pedal down, at least make two pars there, put some heat on, and I wasn’t able to do it.”
Despite the loss, Furyk earned his third consecutive top-10 finish.
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3. GOING LOW: A day after only 11 players managed to break par at Oak Hill, 25 managed to do under the pressures of a major Sunday.
Scott Piercy flirted with Dufner’s record 63 from Friday, needing a birdie at the final hole to pull off the feat twice in a tournament. But a wayward drive and two-putt from 10 feet led to a closing bogey and a 5-under 65.
“I’m really pleased with it. It’s funny, I tweeted last night I’m thinking 62. With the birdie putt on 14 to get to 7 (under), I was right on pace. Hit a bad putt there, then came back on 16 and made a birdie,” said Piercy after his first career top-10 finish in a major. “Those last two holes were tough. To shoot 5 under on Sunday in a major is pretty good score.”
Keegan Bradley and Hideki Matsuyama signaled to the field that low scores were out there, with Bradley picked up six birdies over his first 13 holes en route to a 4-under 66. Matsuyama also posted a 66, continuing to show great poise on golf’s biggest stages – he has three top-20 finishes in playing all four majors this season.
“Keegan birdied the first hole and kind of set the pace for us, and I just kind of followed him and caught some momentum the back nine, and we both came in pretty well,” said Matsuyama.
Graeme McDowell also posted 66, draining a 12-footer on 18 to do so. He picked up five consecutive birdies from Nos. 4 through 8 early in the round to close out his major season on a high note.
“It’s very difficult to have your game exacted for these weeks, you know. It’s hard to peak. It’s hard to be ready,” said McDowell, who has three worldwide wins this season. “It’s a hard game. It’s hard to get it right on the day. The major championships are the toughest test in golf, as we know. They stress you. They frustrate you. That’s why great players win majors because they are hard to win.”
Jason Day was 6 under through 15 holes before back-to-back-to-back bogeys to end his round sent him to a 3-under 67, still good enough for his third top-10 finish in a major this season (Masters, third; U.S. Open, T-2).
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4. FORGETTABLE WEEKS: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will try to put Oak Hill in their rear-view mirrors, as the World Nos. 1 and 2 combined to go 16 over for the tournament.
Woods will take a bit of momentum away from Rochester after seven consecutive one-putts during his back nine Sunday, making up for a sloppy end to his opening nine and posting an even-par 70. Woods was 4 over for the tournament, and did not break 70 on a major weekend in 2013.
“It’s more frustrating not being in it,” Woods said. “Having a chance on the back nine on Sunday, I can live with that. It’s always frustrating going out there, and I’m 3 over today, got to 7, and I’m grinding my tail off coming in just to shoot even par for the day. And I’m nowhere in it. That’s tough.”
Mickelson tripled No. 5 and then doubled No. 7 early Sunday, but battled back for a 2-over 72. He finished the tournament at 12 over.
“I didn’t play very well the last two weeks. I’m not going to worry about it. I’m going to go home and take a few weeks off, get my short game sharp and start back up in four or five days for the FedExCup. I’m not going to worry too much about it,” said Mickelson.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Henrik Stenson fired an even-par 70 Sunday, but picked up his second consecutive top-5 finish in a major (T-2 at Open Championship) . . . Steve Stricker came up short of winning his first major, firing a 3-over 73 Sunday, picking up only a single birdie on the day . . . Playing with Stricker, Adam Scott never really got it going Sunday, firing an even-par 70, including bogeys at No. 16 and 18 . . . Lee Westwood had a Sunday he’d like to forget, firing a 6-over 76 that didn’t feature a birdie until the 10th hole . . . Westwood’s playing competitor Rory McIlroy battled back from a triple-bogey at the par-4 5th hole for an even-par 70 to finish T-8.