DUBLIN Ohio –Jason Dufner’s play thus far at Muirfield Village has largely resembled his performance from four years ago at Oak Hill save for one key difference.
He’s putting better.
Dufner blitzed Muirfield again Friday morning, posting his second consecutive round of 7-under 65 to sit atop the leaderboard at the Memorial (as pictured here.
He’ll head into the weekend five shots ahead of his nearest challenger, Daniel Summerhays, and six clear of Rickie Fowler.
Dufner leads the field in putts per green in regulation and is 30 for 32 on putts holed from inside 10 feet this week.
When he captured his lone major title at the 2013 PGA Championship, he put on a ball-striking clinic that more than made up for his shaky putting, particularly from close range.
But with his putting vastly improved thanks to a new breathing technique, Dufner is feeling freed up to play his best golf.
“When you’re not holing putts, it puts more pressure on every part of your game,” he said. “You feel like you have to get your irons closer, take more chances from time to time. … You feel like your chipping and your pitching has to be perfect so you can make pars when you need to. You feel like your lag putting has to be good if you’re not holing putts. It can manifest itself into something you don’t want out there.”
Through 36 holes, his success on the greens has made his ball-striking that much more devastating. Dufner has hit 21 of 28 fairways and 31 of 36 greens, including 17 of 18 on Thursday. When he has missed the putting surface, he’s gone 4 for 5 scrambling to save par. He dropped his only shot of the week at the 18th hole Thursday and made up for it with an eagle hole-out there on Friday.
In the process, Dufner set a new 36-hole Memorial scoring record, topping the previous 13-under mark set by Scott Hoch (1987) and Rickie Fowler (2012). It’s been a dominant performance from a guy who at one point cut this event from his schedule.
After missed cuts and four rounds in the 70s in his first two starts at Muirfield Village, Dufner opted to skip the Memorial for three straight years, from 2011-2013.
But he was forced to come back as a member of the victorious 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup team. He went 3-1 that week, pairing with Zach Johnson and winning his singles match over Brendon de Jonge, 4 and 3. It was at the Presidents Cup that Dufner picked the brains of some of his teammates and finally started feeling comfortable on a track that had previously frustrated him.
“How do you play these holes? How do you play these situations?” he would ask. “I played a lot with Zach, Matt Kuchar. Tiger was on the team. He’s pretty good around this track. I think [Jim] Furyk helped me out, Davis Love a little bit.
“I was able to use that and come back and have success. … Now it’s one of the events that don’t really want to miss and feel like I can play well.”
Since returning to the Memorial in 2014, Dufner’s worst finish is a T-33 he posted last year, and his performance through two days is eerily reminiscent of what he did here in 2015.
Two years ago, he hit 17 of 18 greens in Round 1, missing only on 18, just as he did this week. He also held the lead at one point on Friday thanks to an ace at the par-3 16th. This year, it was an eagle at the home hole.
But unlike in 2015, Dufner was up a whopping six shots when he met with the media mid-day Friday. Asked if he’s ever had to protect a lead that large, he flatlined:
“I can’t remember. I haven’t won many tournaments, so probably not.”
The four-time PGA Tour winner is aware he’s unlikely to go another 14 under on the weekend, but he isn’t thinking about it.
“To be honest, tomorrow is another day,” he said. “I’m working on my breathing.”