PGA blog: After unusual prep, Dufner leads PGA

Jason Dufner hits a drive on the ninth hole during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament Friday, Aug. 12, 2011, at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – There are countless ways to prepare for a major championship. And unless you're Jason Dufner, taking three weeks off isn't highly recommended.

Yet that's what Dufner did, vacationing earlier this month in Destin, Fla., with his fiancee, Amanda Boyd. Then he turned up last Friday at Atlanta Athletic Club and got back to work.

"I've had a good year so far, so my motivation probably wasn't what it needed to be," said Dufner, No. 35 on the Tour money list, with $1,678,060. "It's hard to peak every week out here. I guess I was a little burned out."

Motivation won't be an issue now -- Dufner will play in the final pairing Saturday at the PGA Championship.

A few months ago, that wouldn't have seemed so far-fetched. He lost in a playoff at the Phoenix Open, then tied for third in New Orleans and sixth at The Players in consecutive starts in May. What came next, however, was part lack of motivation, part bad play: He missed five cuts in his past six starts, then decided to take time off to prepare for the year's final major.

"I don't get too excited or too down or too up; I just kind of play golf," said Dufner, 34, still searching for his first Tour win. "I feel like I'm one of the best in the world at what I do, and you're going to have good weeks, you're going to have bad weeks, you're going to have disappointing nines, you're going to have disappointing weekends. That's just part of being a golf professional."

Last year, at Whistling Straits, he finished two shots out of the playoff. He said he didn't get flustered by that moment, and he won't at Atlanta Athletic Club, either.

"It doesn't really get you anywhere now," he said. "It's important in the fact that I'm competitive and in a good spot going into the weekend, but on the same end, it's not that important, to be honest with you."

- Ryan Lavner

•••

PGA Championship, by the numbers

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – A numerical look at the 16 players under par through two rounds at the PGA Championship:

71: Combined PGA Tour victories, an average of 4.4 per player. More than half of those victories belong to two players – Davis Love (20) and Jim Furyk (16) – though.

9: Number of players with one or few PGA Tour victories. Jason Dufner, Anders Hansen and Brandt Jobe have zero. Jobe is 46 years old. Keegan Bradley, D.A. Points, John Senden, Brendan Steele, Jhonattan Vegas and Scott Piercy have one apiece.

Bradley, Points, Steele, Vegas and Piercy all won their first PGA Tour title this season. Those titles qualified them for the PGA Championship.

0: Number of majors Bradley had played before this week. He shares the 36-hole lead with Dufner.

2: Number of major winners – Furyk (2003 U.S. Open) and Davis Love III (1997 PGA).

84: Average Official World Golf Ranking of the 16 players at par or better.

3: Number of top-10 players in the OWGR among the top 16 – Lee Westwood (2), Steve Stricker (5) and Adam Scott (9).

5: Number of top-50 players – Jim Furyk (25), Anders Hansen (45), Westwood, Stricker and Scott.

7: Number of players ranked outside the top 100 – Points (105), Vegas (107), Bradley (108), Jobe (118) Steele (121), Kelly (166) and Piercy (175).

- Sean Martin

• • •

Defending champ Kaymer misses cut

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - The defending champion won’t be around for the weekend at the PGA Championship.

Martin Kaymer, the third-ranked player in the world, shot a second-round 73 Friday at Atlanta Athletic Club to finish at 5-over 145.

“It was a frustrating tournament,” he said, “because nothing went my way.”

Kaymer, who won last year’s PGA in a playoff at Whistling Straits, finishes a disappointing season in the majors: MC (Masters), T-39 (U.S. Open), T-12 (British Open) and now another early departure at the PGA.

Kaymer, 26, became World No. 1 when he reached the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February, but has since fallen to third. His lone worldwide victory this season came in January, at the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship.

- Ryan Lavner

•••

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Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts as he loses his club after hitting a tree root on the third hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

4 p.m.: The adventures of Rory's new 7-iron

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Remember that shot Rory McIlroy hit from next to a tree root yesterday? It was kind of a big deal. McIlroy’s right wrist wasn’t the only thing damaged when he hit that shot on Atlanta Athletic Club’s third hole. His Titleist MB 7-iron (with a Project X 6.5 shaft, bent 1 degree upright, for those that are into that kind of stuff) took a beating, as well, and was unplayable after striking the root.

McIlroy had a new 7-iron in time for today’s 8:35 a.m. tee time thanks to some quick work. The club left the Titleist Tour Department in Carlsbad, Calif., at 5:22 p.m. Eastern Thursday, before McIlroy had finished his first-round 70, and arrived at Atlanta Athletic Club about an hour before he played today.

Here’s the timeline of the club’s cross-country, overnight journey (all times local):

8:28 p.m.: Left FedEx facility in Carlsbad, Calif.

12:53 a.m.: Arrived in Memphis, Tenn.

3:05 a.m.: Left Memphis

4:50 a.m.: Arrived in Atlanta

5:30 a.m.: Arrived in Alpharetta, Ga.

5:59 a.m.: Departed Alpharetta, Ga.

7:25 a.m.: Arrived at Atlanta Athletic Club

That’s right, the club flew across the country, and boy are its arms tired.

- Sean Martin

•••

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Illinois head coach Mike Small watches his team during match-play quarterfinals at the NCAA Championship.

3:50 p.m.: Small gets creative on the 18th

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – The PGA Championship allows the association’s members a week to experience golf at its highest level. Mike Small took advantage of the opportunity, hitting the type of shot that will long be stored in the memory bank.

Small was 4 over par for the tournament with one hole remaining in his second round. He knew he needed par to have a chance of making the cut. He pushed his tee shot on Atlanta Athletic Club’s tough finishing hole right of the fairway bunkers. He had to have the gallery moved so he could attempt to hook a 3-iron about 10 yards around trees and onto the green from 215 yards.

“I hit a low, slinging hook,” he said. “I had to carry it 198 over the water. If I hit it 197, it’s wet. I hit it about 200 and it rolled back about 30 feet from the hole.”

Small’s work wasn’t done, though. He had to hole a 5-foot putt for par and a second-round 71.

Small’s standing in relation to the cut line would have no impact on his plans for Friday evening, though. “I’m not going to practice,” he said. “I’m taking my kids to the Cubs game.”

Small played practice rounds this week with his former Illinois teammate Steve Stricker, the first-round leader after a 63, and Jerry Kelly, who shot 65 in the first round.

“He didn’t hit it very good in the practice rounds. He’ll tell you that. He hit it in a lot of fairway bunkers. We joked that he had the fairway bunkers figured out for this week. But practice rounds don’t matter. It probably got him zoned in a little more, because it puts a little fear in you. We lost some money to Jerry and Scott Verplank.”

Both Small and Stricker are on pace to earn paychecks this week. Stricker could be in store for an especially big one.

- Sean Martin

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