Hawk's Nest: Getting personal with Dufner

By John HawkinsAugust 12, 2013, 3:42 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – There are two golfers remaining. Both are standing at the curve in the 18th fairway, about to fire at a green wrapped in dense layers of humanity. Fans are everywhere. Photographers are stacked at the base of the bleachers, awaiting that must-have moment. PGA of America officials have gathered in droves, eager to crown their latest champion.

It is a glorious summer evening in upstate New York, and our game could not seem healthier. The sun has dropped to an angle that casts a lemony glow on the scene, coating the moment in aesthetic splendor. I remember standing in this same spot almost 18 years ago, watching the United States lose the final hole over and over in Ryder Cup singles, tipping the final outcome to the Europeans.

Amid the heroes and goats that afternoon, I basically had the area behind the 18th green to myself. Pro golf is played in a bigger world now, louder and a lot more visible. Sometimes, you come to a place like Rochester and the growth hits you all at once.

TRUTH BE TOLD, Jason Dufner wasn’t having nearly the year he had in 2012 before winning Sunday. Two victories and a solo second last year, plus a T-4 at the U.S. Open and four other top-10s, led him to a second-place finish in the final FedEx Cup standings.

In ’13, Dufner’s first top-10 didn’t come until the U.S. Open, where he finished T-4 again. He did the same at Firestone last week, but a win like this takes him to another level entirely. While sitting through his post-victory news conference, I was struck by how much more relaxed the guy seems than when he first started making noise on the PGA Tour a couple of years ago.

We’re talking about a significant transformation. Dufner’s first five seasons in the big leagues were about as non-descript as five years can get. He hung around Vijay Singh a lot, partially because both had an alliance with Cleveland Golf, and seemed to be taking lessons from Singh in terms of winning friends and influencing people.

Let’s just say Duf could be pretty gruff. There wasn’t much reason to talk to him, however, so it’s nice to see that his evolution as a player has brought out the likeable side of his offbeat personality. For instance, you don’t hear many winners make fun of somebody’s shirt, as Dufner did in his media center interview, or admit his unemotional demeanor might stem from the notion that he considers golf rather boring.

“Usually, I’m struggling with the putter, so there’s not too much to get excited about with that [anyway],” he quipped.

I’ll admit to having zero interest in the whole Dufnering craze driven by Twitter this spring. Dufner did address it briefly, saying, “got some notoriety for something that was probably trying to hurt me a little bit, [but] ran with it and it helped me a lot.” He quickly changed the subject, leaving me with the sense that he still wasn’t crazy about the whole thing, but if it helped the guy come out of his shell and get comfortable in a universe where adoration runs rampant, pro golf is better because of it.

Players who don’t take themselves too seriously – if you ask me, we can’t get enough of them.

A SEPARATE PIECE I wrote Sunday evening on Tiger Woods will be posted Monday evening, but it doesn’t include highlights of a text conversation I had with former Woods swing coach Hank Haney, who was traveling overseas and didn’t get back to me until early Monday morning. For all the criticism Haney has received over his take on Tiger’s struggles in recent years, any positive comments he makes are often left on the cutting-room floor.

“Still the best, but clearly isn’t what he once was,” Haney wrote, adding, “next year’s [major venues] are great for him. He could win two majors and still make a run at Jack.”

No doubt. The 2014 U.S. Open will be held at Pinehurst No. 2, a course on which Tiger contended in 1999 and 2005. A 4-foot miss for par on the 71st hole ended Eldrick’s bid in ’99 – if he makes that putt and Payne Stewart doesn’t hole the 15-footer at the buzzer, we’ve got a three-man playoff the next day between those two guys and Phil Mickelson.

Next year’s British Open is at Royal Liverpool, site of a vintage TW performance in 2006 that carried him to his third claret jug. It was the week Woods hit his driver just once (late in the first round) and led the field in fairways hit. And the PGA heads back to Valhalla, where Tiger held off Bob May amid massive drama to claim his third consecutive major title back in 2000.

Much has been written this summer about Woods’ poor performances on courses he’s not familiar with – or hasn’t won on before – as opposed to places where he has won. It’s always easy to hyperbolize, but 2014 looms as a gigantic year in terms of Red Shirt realistically catching Nicklaus.

“With those courses next year, he has to do something,” Haney summarized. “Can he stay motivated without success in [the last] five years?”

NOT THAT YOU don’t have the dates on your calendar circled with a pink Sharpie, but the Presidents Cup is a mere six weeks away, and that Dufner-Jim Furyk duel at Oak Hill messed with the U.S. standings a little bit. Dufner obviously made the biggest leap, moving from 13th to sixth, meaning he’s pretty close to locking up a spot on the team.

On the outside looking in? You start with Bubba Watson (14th) and Webb Simpson, who fell from eighth to 12th despite a T-25 Sunday. Watson-Simpson formed a formidable partnership at the 2011 Presidents Cup in Australia, winning three matches as the first group out and setting the tone for what would become a comfortable U.S. victory.

Bubba just hasn’t gotten it done in 2013 – a pair of top-fives since the West Coast swing, one of which was a late blown lead in Hartford – and Simpson hasn’t done much more than his partner. If you’re U.S. skipper Fred Couples, you’ve got to think long and hard about using a captain’s pick on Billy Horschel, who is 15th but has piled up virtually all of his points this season.

Young, eager, demonstrative. Given what happened to the Yanks last fall at Medinah, some fresh, fist-pumping blood wouldn’t be the worst idea a captain has come up with. “Golf is very much a gentlemen’s game,” Horschel says. “I’d let the other guys [on the International team] know, ‘Hey, we’re friends, but don’t take my emotions the wrong way.’ ”

Couples gets two picks; Dustin Johnson and Furyk currently hold the other spots between 11th and 15th. There’s no need to go further down the list – Freddie’s not the kind of guy who will go deep and toss a pick to someone on a hunch.

Not that he couldn’t. You look at Nick Price’s International squad and it’s hard not to cringe – I’m counting a grand total of three PGA/European tour victories in 2013, among the top 10 qualifiers, only one of which occurred at a premium-field event (Adam Scott at the Masters). What’s more, Louis Oosthuizen, one of Price’s top players, was the only guy among the top 100 in the world ranking to miss the PGA, citing myriad injuries.

Neck problems, back problems, hip problems. I’m no doctor, but it appears to me Price has serious roster problems.

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Report: Augusta may lengthen par-4 fifth hole

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:18 am

One of the more difficult holes at Augusta National Golf Club could be adding some teeth in time for the 2019 Masters.

A recent report from the Augusta Chronicle details preliminary site plans from the Augusta Planning and Development Department. Chief among the proposed changes is a lengthening of the par-4 fifth hole, which currently measures 455 yards.

According to the report, a new tee could be constructed across Old Berckmans Road that could lengthen the hole by 20-30 yards. The change would alleviate congestion between the tee and the nearby fourth green and includes plans to curve the road – which has been closed to public traffic since 2015 – around the new fifth tee.

At last year’s Masters, former club chairman Billy Payne highlighted the area as a possible site for minor changes.

“We are always looking at certain holes, certain improvements to the golf course,” Payne said. “We have a great opportunity now in that we now own the Old Berckmans Road. It gives us the ability, as it touches certain holes, it gives us some way to expand or redesign – not redesign, but lengthen some of those holes, should we choose to do so, and all of them are under review.”

Should the new tee be built, it would mark the first club-enacted course changes since six holes were lengthened in 2006. According to the preliminary plans, construction would start on approximately May 1, following this year’s tournament, and would conclude by early November.

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Thomas: Raucus crowds becoming 'completely unacceptable'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 12:53 am

LOS ANGELES – After spending the first two rounds of the Genesis Open caught amid the traveling circus that accompanies tournament host Tiger Woods anytime he tees it up, Justin Thomas relished his third trip around Riviera with fewer bodies – and voices – in the crowd.

Thomas was part of this week’s marquee early-round grouping, playing the first 36 holes alongside Woods and Rory McIlroy. McIlroy suggested that the chaos of a Woods gallery costs the 42-year-old half a shot per round, and it’s a sentiment that Thomas supported after climbing into the top 10 with a third-round 67.

“Yeah, it was pretty wild this first couple days. It was all right for a little bit today, but there at the end it got a little out of hand,” Thomas said. “I guess it’s a part of it now, unfortunately. I wish it wasn’t. I wish people didn’t think it was so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots and play.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas enters the final round four shots behind Bubba Watson as he looks to win for the second time this season. While the crowds at Riviera are a fraction of the size encountered two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, Thomas recalled a couple of unfortunate incidents from that event when fans spoke up and snapped mid-swing pictures while he played the first two rounds alongside Jordan Spieth.

“I don’t know - I guess they just think it’s funny,” Thomas said. “It might be funny to them, and obviously people think of it differently and I could just be overreacting. But when people are now starting to time it wrong and get in people’s swings, is just completely unacceptable really.

“We’re out here playing for a lot of money, a lot of points, and a lot of things can happen. And you would just hate to have, hate to see in the future something happen down the line because of something like that.”

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Durant leads Stricker, MAJ into Chubb Classic Sunday

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 12:50 am

NAPLES, Fla. - Joe Durant birdied five of the last eight holes for a 9-under 63 to match Steve Stricker's Saturday finish and take the second-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Chubb Classic.

Durant rebounded from a three-putt bogey on the par-4 10th with birdies on the next two holes and also birdied Nos. 15-17. He had a 14-under 130 total on TwinEagles' Talon course for a one-stroke lead over Stricker.

''You're going to laugh at me when I tell you this, but it was actually a par I made on my first hole,'' Durant said. ''I pulled my tee shot left, went into a bush and had to take an unplayable, had to drop back and hit an 8-iron about 15 feet and made par and it was kind of like, 'OK, well, maybe the putter is going to work today.'''

Stricker had nine birdies in a bogey-free round.

''I look forward to playing with Steve,'' Durant said. ''He's a class act, one of my buddies out here, and obviously he is playing well and he had a great round today. It will be a shootout tomorrow, no question, but it will be fun.''

The 53-year-old Durant has two PGA Tour Champions victories after winning four times on the PGA Tour.

The 50-year-old Stricker is making his first start of the year on the 50-and-over tour after playing six tournaments last year - a runner-up finish in his debut and three third-places ties but not a victory.

''That's why I'm here, to try to win the golf tournament,'' the 12-time PGA Tour winner said.

He played the last two weeks on the PGA Tour, tying for 31st in the Phoenix Open and tying for 26th at Pebble Beach.

''You can be a little more patient on the big tour because pars sometimes are good scores,'' Stricker said. ''Out here you need to make some birdies and when you see guys running away, that's when you lose your patience, at least I did yesterday.''

Playing alongside John Daly, Stricker birdied three of the last four on the front nine and birdied the last two for a back-nine 31.

''Yesterday, I wasn't very patient and I let a couple slip away that I should have had,'' Stricker said. ''On the par 5s on my second nine yesterday, I walked away from a couple pars, and that was frustrating. So I kind of let that get to me. Today, I was a lot more patient, and I felt it on the greens. When you're patient on the greens, you tend to roll the ball a little bit better, and I rolled a lot of nice putts.''

First-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez was two strokes back. He birdied three of the last four in a 68 after opening with a 64.

''Tomorrow is going to be a fight,'' Jimenez said. ''It's going to be nice. As long as you are around the lead, one shot behind, one shot ahead. A lot of golf to come. Just play golf, let everything come.''

Lee Janzen (67) was 11 under, and Kevin Sutherland (68) and Scott McCarron (68) were another stroke back. Daly was 8 under after his second 68. Three-time champion Bernhard Langer had a 70 to get to 5 under.

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Watson takes one-shot lead at Riviera

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 17, 2018, 11:49 pm

It's an even-numbered year, so we shouldn't be surprised that Bubba Watson is leading at Riviera. Here's how things shake out going into the final round of the Genesis Open:

Leaderboard: Bubba Watson (-10), Patrick Cantlay (-9), Cameron Smith (-8), Kevin Na (-8), Tony Finau (-8), Graeme McDowell (-8)

What it means: Watson won the Tour's Los Angeles stop in 2014 and 2016, first shooting 64-64 on the weekend to come from eight shots back and beat Dustin Johnson by two strokes, then edging Jason Kokrak and Adam Scott by a stroke two years later. On Saturday, after a Friday night spent playing in a celebrity basketball game that was part of NBA All-Star Weekend (and getting a shot swatted into the stands by 6-foot-8 Tracy McGrady), he eagled the par-5 first hole, hitting a 200-yard approach to 18 inches, and kept his foot on the gas the rest of the way, adding five birdies against one bogey.

Round of the day: Dustin Johnson moved up 45 spots with a 64. Like Watson, he eagled the first hole, then added four birdies to make the turn in 29. His back nine was an exercise in treading water, with eight pars and a birdie, at the par-5 11th.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Best of the rest: Watson's 65 was matched by Cameron Smith, who moved up 12 spots to T-3 by making an eagle and four birdies.

Biggest disappointment: At 49, two-time former U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen was just four shots off the lead after 36 holes, but a Saturday 75 dropped him to a tie for 51st. Goosen's round was a matter of slow bleeding, with three bogeys and a birdie on both sides.

Shot of the day: Derek Fathauer eagled the par-4 third hole, holing his approach shot from 120 yards.

Quote of the day: "You've got to know that this golf course is going to make you mess up." - Bubba Watson

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: Although Watson has won twice at Riviera, he hasn't won anywhere since his 2016 victory in L.A. His 2016-17 season finish of 75th in the FedExCup standings was the worst of his career. His closest pursuer, Cantlay, is just one stroke back after closing with a 54-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.