PITTSFORD, NY – Jason Dufner put the entire PGA Championship – players, fans, and tournament – in so much of a sleeperhold, the entire golf world must have looked like they were Dufnering.
“This is boring,” groused several sports writers as the final round plodded to a bland, anti-climactic conclusion, and they were right, but you can’t blame Dufner. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, he dominated. He got his opponents down and, this time, put them in a headlock and rocked them to sleep. He seized the lead at the par- eighth hole with a laser-beam approach that finished a tap in away from the hole, then took a two shot lead at the turn when Furyk bogeyed the ninth.
And then Dufner turned on the auto-pilot. The same formula he used during that 63 he hung on soggy Soak Hill on Friday – fairways and greens, lather, rinse, repeat. Furyk didn’t fumble this one away, he was outgunned, outmatched, and outplayed. Dufner was aggressive with driver off the tee, but hit it straight down the middle. From there, Oak Hill is a piece of cake. You know how some courses are a “second shot golf course?” Not Oak Hill – it’s a driving course. Put it in the fairway, and it’s not all that long. You can try to hit those small greens with lofted clubs in your hands, giving yourself some good looks at birdie.
And that’s exactly what Dufner did. Despite back-to-back bogeys to close the tournament, he posted a 68 that may have been the most snore-inducing final round since David Graham at Merion in ’83, (or perhaps Faldo’s 18 pars at Muirfield in ’87). The dagger came at 16. By that time, Furyk was reeling, running on fumes. That energy drink he promotes may last five hours, but can’t last four rounds, and by the back nine, Furyk was hanging on by his fingernails: being outdriven off the tee, putting from much further away on the greens than Dufner was, and scrambling like a mad man. You were waiting for him to make that one costly mistake he tends to make in big tournaments, the one he’d avoided so far with some hair-raising up-and-downs.
But on the other hand, the only reason we were still watching in the first place was because Dufner hadn’t finished him off already. He let Furyk hang around just enough to hope. But if there is a guy to leave hanging around, it’s Furyk. Furyk led the tournament by a shot after three rounds, but Dufner had Furyk right where where he wanted him.
It’s an open question whether Slim Jim’s worse at holding a lead, (he’s blown the Bridgestone, the U.S. Open, the Transitions, and his Ryder Cup singles match after leading all of them late), or coming from behind, (which he couldn’t do at Winged Foot, Oakmont, or anywhere else for that matter). Furyk has had 13 top-5 finishes in majors, but has only won once.
So on the one hand we had the all-but-perennial bridesmaid vs. the guy who can’t make a short putt and flushed a five shot lead late just two years earlier. In other words we were watching a couple of choke artists try not to be the guy who threw up the Wanamaker.
To Dufner’s credit, he played the best golf and deserved to win. At 16, he put the tournament away for all intents and purposes with a wedge approach at the short par-4 sixteenth that nearly went in for eagle. He retained his two shot lead, got it to the house, and turned to celebrate with his wife – which he did by slapping her on her tushie on international television.
“Did he just do that?” half the golf world asked incredulously.
“Yes, he did,” the rest of us answered, horrified. It was innocent, of course, but particularly ill-timed. I wonder if Keegan Bradley saw that…
“Keegan and I like to needle each other,” Dufner told the TV cameras at various interviews. Apparently Bradley rides him about rallying from five shots late to steal the 2011 PGA Championship from Dufner. But upon hearing that his pal was about to join him as a Wanamaker Trophy winner, Bradley drove to the course to watch the presentation ceremony and congratulate his friend in person. If he saw that intimate tete-a-tete between Jason and Amanda, he’ll be dining out on it for years! “Hey Duff! Remember the time you grabbed your wife’s ___ on network television? Smooth move, ExLax!”
Good job nevertheless, Keegan, in coming back to celebrate…and guess what? You won at Atlanta Athletic Club…Duff Daddy won at Oak Hill. Advantage: Dufner.
Indeed, Dufner went out and took this title in almost as dominant a fashion as he did for 68 holes in Atlanta two year earlier. He hit over 75% of his fairways, and 75% of his greens. He gave himself enough good looks to make a few putts. He played well enough to get a comfortable lead, then coasted home after everyone else fell away. Jim Furyk is no Keegan Bradley – he’s not as long, as aggressive, or as durable. He put the pressure on, and this time kept applying it till his opponent cracked.
Despite his dopey grin, dopier Diz, and dip, Dufner is less Ben Hogan and more Raymond Floyd…well Ray Floyd with a prefrontal lobotomy. He steadies his opponents to death with arrow straight drives, interballistic missile accuracy with his irons, and enough good putting to hang around the tops of leaderboards. If he can stop pulling enough short putts to keep everyone else in contention long enough to steal one from his a la Bradley in Atlanta, he might win as many or more majors as Floyd. He not only plays with Floyd’s relentless and grit, he looks like Raymond with his fluffy hair, roundish face and dumpy physique.
But then there’s the Dufnering. Where Floyd was a dynamo, Dufner is a flatliner.
“So, Jay, tell us about this Jason Dufner guy!” my friends asked me after he won. “What’s he like?”
“Well he likes to sprawl on the floor and stare into space with a vacant expression,” I replied.
“Well…how fascinating…” they said.
I know as a sports writer I’m supposed to attach oodles of charm and grace to a guy who wins a big golf tournament, but come on, really, Jason Dufner?! He’s more somnambulant than Retief Goosen, the original Dockers-wearing zombie himself. When Nicklaus or Palmer won majors they went hunting or fishing. Apparently Woods went partying. What will Dufner do? He’ll go stare at a wall somewhere with a lost look on his face, kind of like what every other American did whenever Seinfeld came on TV.
But who knows? Perhaps now that he has a major championship on his resume, he’ll come out of his shell a bit. There’s certainly a lot more to talk about in the Dufner household now. He’ll ride off into the sunset with the trophy in one arm, and his wife in the other. And hopefully this time his hands will behave themselves, because if he ever does that again she’s going to spank his tushie…much more frequently and a lot harder.
THIS ARTICLE ALSO APPEARED AT CYBERGOLF.COM