ROCHESTER, N.Y. — On a day when birdies were flying under sunny upstate New York skies, Jason Dufner put on a master class in ballstriking and shot a 2-under 68 to win the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club by two shots over Jim Furyk.
The win for Dufner is especially sweet, because he nearly won this tournament two years ago when he held a five-shot lead on the back nine. However, he eventually lost at the Atlanta Athletic Club in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.
“It’s been a tough day,” Dufner said just before being presented with the Wanamaker Trophy on the 18th green. “It probably just hasn’t hit me yet. I can’t believe this is happening to me. To come back from a couple years ago in this championship when I lost to Keegan in a playoff, to win, feels really, really good.”
As Dufner walked off the 18th green to sign his card, after he hugged his wife, Amanda, one of the first people to greet him was Bradley.
“I gave him a bro-hug,” Dufner said with a laugh in the media center. “He said, ‘I’m proud of you.’ I said, ‘Thanks, it means a lot to me for you to be here.’ You know, I was probably over what happened in Atlanta, 95 percent of it by the time we got home. But you always carry those little scars with you. He always jabbed me about having [a Wanamaker Trophy] in his house and thanked me for giving it to him and all that stuff. But now I’ve got one too.”
The rains that fell overnight Wednesday and continued through the morning Thursday made Oak Hill’s fairways and greens soft all week. That allowed players who specialize in accuracy and control – like Dufner and Furyk – to take dead aim with their irons.
“The golf course was set up to be had,” Tiger Woods said early in the afternoon after he shot 70. The World No. 1 was never in contention at Oak Hill and finished T-40. But before he left, Woods added, “With it being soft, they gave us some pretty easy pins from 12 on.”
Woods proved prophetic as Scott Piercy surged to shoot 65 while Bradley, Boo Weekley, Hideki Matsuyama and Graeme McDowell all shot 66.
While several contenders stumbled out of the blocks and made bogey on the very first hole – including Adam Scott, Jonas Blixt and Henrik Stenson – Dufner and Furyk made a steady assault on Oak Hill.
Each player made pars on the first three holes. But on the 575-yard, par-5 fourth hole, Dufner nailed a 3-wood from 264 yards away that bounded onto the green and skidded to a stop in the rough behind the putting surface. His chip trundled down to the hole and stopped 5 feet above the cup. Gently, the Auburn grad made a tiny backswing and watched the ball trickle in for a birdie that gave him a share of the lead at nine under.
On the very next hole, as the clock struck 4 p.m. in Rochester and after making 11 waggles with his driver, Dufner split the fairway. He then hit a pitching wedge from 139 yards away and watched the ball stop three feet from the hole to set up another birdie, this one for the outright lead at 10 under.
But Dufner’s performance wasn’t just about drivers and irons. He demonstrated a clever short game and timely putting too.
On the 172-yard, par-3 sixth hole, after leaving his tee shot short on the collar between the green and the rough, Dufner elected to use his 3-wood to chip the ball. He curled in a 6-foot par-saving putt that was critical because Furyk had just drained a 30-footer for birdie to join Dufner at 10 under.
Dufner said the key moment in his round came on the 15th hole when his 6-iron to the 186-yard par-3 found the right rough. Again, instead of using a wedge, Dufner opted for his 3-wood to chip and bumped the ball to within 3 feet of the hole to save the par.
“I feel pretty comfortable with that shot actually,” Dufner said. “I use it a lot when the ball is up in the fringe and up against the rough.” He explained that today, because he got some awkward lies, going with the 3-wood instead of chipping or pitching the ball with a wedge just made sense.
“He didn’t miss very many fairways today and he hit some really good iron shots,” said Furyk, who shot 71. “He hit it to a foot on five, eight and 16. I mean, tap-in birdies. He drove it right down the middle on 16 and hit it to a foot. He drove it right down the middle on 17 and knocked it on the green on a tough hole. And he hit a pretty darned good drive on 18.”
While Furyk tried to keep the pressure on, one by one the other contenders faded down the stretch.
Henrik Stenson, who was the runner-up to Tiger Woods last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, surged after making an eagle on the fourth hole, but made a costly bogey on the seventh. He birdied the 13th, but after dumping an awkward pitch shot into the bunker that guards the front of the 14th green, he made another bogey that effectively took him out of contention. Stenson finished third, three shots behind Dufner’s 10-under total.
Stenson’s playing partner and fellow Swede, Jonas Blixt, started the day three shots behind Furyk at 6 under. He bounced back from two early bogeys with birdies on the fifth and 10 holes, but could never draw closer than three shots off the lead. Bogeys at the 17th and 18th holes left him in fourth at 6 under – not bad for his second career major championship.
Adam Scott was never able to establish momentum Sunday and shot an even-par 70. He finished tied with Piercy for fifth at 5 under par.
With the win, Dufner becomes the sixth player to shoot 63 in a major championship and also win the title, joining Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods.
He and his wife, Amanda, recently purchased 50 acres of land and are in the process of building a home. They were given an oak tree sapling by the general manager of Oak Hill Country Club and plan to plant it, along with several acorns they’ve collected this week, on their property.
“It will be a neat experience, the first major championship at Oak Hill and hopefully having some of their oak trees out there on the property,” Dufner said.
With a win, a runner-up finish and a tie for fifth in the last four PGA Championships, Dufner has certainly taken root in this event.