Dufner, Bradley have jumped into the spotlight

Jason Dufner plays a shot on the 11th fairway during the first round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club South Course on August 2, 2012 in Akron, Ohio.

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AKRON, Ohio – As if he were verifying something legendary with his own eyes, the marshal at Firestone CC’s ninth green reported to a friend that it was true. He had seen it himself, having walked over to the 10th tee some four hours earlier to watch Jason Dufner tee off.

“I counted eight hand waggles,” the man said.

So after slam-dunking a birdie roll of 23 feet to close out a 3-under 67 in Round 1 of the Bridgestone Invitational, Dufner was asked if this were definitive proof that his stature in the game is loftier than it had been. After all, does anyone think this marshal knew who Dufner was a year ago, let alone that the man was a devotee to the classic hand waggle?

Dufner smiled and agreed. A year ago, in fact, he wasn’t even eligible for this mega World Golf Championship event. But when he went to the PGA Championship the very next week, squandered a five-stroke lead over the final four holes, lost in a playoff, and somehow used that negative experience for a massively positive move into the world spotlight, Dufner certainly earned new-found fame.

To some, he’s a guy who bounced back from major championship heartache to bounced into the winner’s circle for the first time. To others, he’s . . . well, he’s the guy who does the hand waggles at address.

“The waggle’s kind of taken on life of its own,” Dufner said. “People can identify that with me a little bit. Not many guys have that motion going out here, so it’s nice to have one thing I can stick out from the other guys.”

Unique that it might be, Dufner’s move is not exactly new. Players in previous generations waved the club back-and-forth over the motionless ball and Dufner sort of likes the fact that he’s considered “old school” by doing similarly.

“Guys who played before me did it. (Ben) Hogan did it. (Sam) Snead did it.”

That trip down memory lane done with, Dufner re-focused on the sport as it is now and just where he ranks in it. Suffice to say, sitting eighth in the world rankings, second on the money list, and third in the FedEx Cup standings, he is OK with the vantage point.

Whereas he was sitting this one out a year ago, Dufner appreciates the fact that he’s now got a bit of a profile, that a marshal would venture over to watch him tee off and count his waggles. From being a good player who had not won to one who had made two trips to the winner’s circle translates into a priceless commodity.

“The biggest thing is, I’m confident coming into every week,” Dufner said. “It’s been nice to have some nice finishes so now I feel like I can play well in every event.”

If you’re thinking that Dufner has a story similar to that of his playing competitor in Thursday’s first round, Keegan Bradley, consider that they’re offering almost identical thoughts. Unheralded when he came to the Bridgestone a year ago, Bradley had a chance to win until he closed with a 74, then he went to Atlanta a week later to win the PGA. Suddenly, Bradley had a following and his confidence is miles from where it was at this time a year ago.

“Out here now, I expect to be playing well, as opposed to before, I was hoping to play well,” Bradley said.

Though he bogeyed his 18th hole, the par-4 ninth, Bradley matched Dufner at 67, the two of them very much in the thick of things after a very good day of scoring at this vernable layout. The PGA Championship connection may still seem like an juicy hook between these formerly unheralded names, but Dufner and Bradley are well past that. A few weeks after last year’s playoff at the Atlanta Athletic Club, Dufner and Bradley were paired together in the Tour Championship, so teeing it up in Round 1 of this $8.5M festival.

“I love playing with Jason,” Bradley said. “He’s a great player.”

Certainly, he’s a more recognizable one, too, and that will become more apparent when the commercials start rolling this weekend. That’s right, Dufner – so quiet, so seemingly unflappable – is going to be seen in a commercial for his newest sponsor, Comcast Business Class, which is also emblazoned on the right chest area of his shirt.

If it seems out of character, Dufner disagrees.

“That’s what you’re looking for. If you play well, you’re going to get recognized and people are going to ask you to endorse things,” Dufner said. “That’s all part of it. You see the guys who are Top 10, Top 5 in the world doing these things.”

Of course, the commercial does keep Dufner in character in one way – there are no speaking lines. “But there’s a lot of makeup, though,” he said, smiling.

And when asked just what sort of commercial it was, his smile got wider.

“You’ll have to see it.”

But beware, it will not unlock the intrigue of his signature hand waggle, partly because that has nothing to do with Comcast Business Select, partly because Dufner himself can’t even say why he makes it part of his swing routine.

“I don’t know. I’ve always done it,” he said. “I can’t tell you when I started it, when it kicked in, how many times I do it. I don’t really have a meaning for it.”

No worries. The point is, the commercial . . . the hand waggles . . . they’re all part of a persona that has grown dramatically the past year, almost as significantly as that of his playing competitor, Bradley. His reign as PGA Championship winner may come to an end next week, but the native New England, like Dufner, is in a better place than he was a year ago.

“I just love everything about the golf course,” Bradley said. “I feel so good this week, like I can win.”

Guess what? Dufner feels likewise – and unlike a year ago, the majority of fans here at Firestone CC know their stories.

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