Dufner captures first major with PGA win at Oak Hill

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2013, 1:10 am

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Waggle, waggle, waggle, waggle, waggle, waggle, waggle.

Always seven to nine, except when the pressure is on. Like on Atlanta Athletic Club’s 15th hole during the final round of the 2011 PGA Championship, when he twitched a dozen times before dumping his tee shot and title chances into the murky abyss.

Like any artist, however compulsive, Jason Dufner is a creature of habit – seven to eight waggles then go. So when the idiosyncratic American stepped to Oak Hill’s daunting 15th hole – an eerily similar facsimile of AAC’s 15th complete with water looming right and nothing good left – the waggle watch was on.

At six Dufner pulled the trigger, launching his tee shot high into the crisp New York sky and onto terra firma, some 20 feet left of the hole and safely within two-putt range.

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We’ll let the armchair sports psychologists mull the “deeper meanings.' In practical terms, which is where Dufner resides, the read was clear – everyone’s favorite flat-liner had matured into a major champion.

It wouldn’t be official for three more holes, after perennial contender Jim Furyk made a mess of the 17th and 18th holes, but as Dufner walked to the 15th green it was clear that the man who doesn’t outwardly appear to have a pulse played like it when it counted.

Don’t get it twisted – Dufner gets nervous.

“Yeah, at his wedding,” smiled caddie Kevin Baile.

For Baile and Dufner his Oak Hill breakthrough completed a circle that began in 1998 at the U.S. Amateur played on the Donald Ross gem.

Baile, a friend from Auburn, Ala., caddied for Dufner at that year’s Amateur. Dufner lost in the second round but began a relationship that winded its way back to upstate New York via the Web.com Tour, Atlanta Athletic Club and all parts in between.

“First loop with him was right here,” Baile said. “It feels pretty special. Karma, hard work, whatever.'

What it wasn’t was luck, an element that seemed to conspire against him at the ’11 PGA when he squandered a four-stroke lead with four holes to play and lost a playoff to Keegan Bradley.

This win was workman-like, a ball-striking display that began on the fourth hole when he striped his approach to 6 feet (birdie), at No. 5 when another brilliant iron shot rolled to 2 feet (birdie), at 8 when he rifled his second shot to 6 feet (birdie). What else would one expect from the man who flirted with major golf’s magic number (62) on Friday?

By the turn, Dufner had turned a one-stroke deficit into a two-stroke advantage over Furyk, who spent most of a clear, cool day playing catch-up. By the time Dufner stepped to the 15th tee all but Furyk had faded into the countryside.

Little did Dufner know he was six waggles and a smooth tee shot away from his maiden major.

“For me to be competitive on this type of golf course, I felt like I had to have a great week ball striking and I was able to do that,” said Dufner, who closed with a 68 for a 10-under 270 total and two-stroke victory over Furyk. “When I hit fairways I hit a ton of greens and that was the difference for me.”

There were plenty of candidates waiting to play the role of Bradley on Sunday.

Henrik Stenson – perhaps the hottest player in golf at the moment following top-three finishes in his last four global starts (T-3 Scottish Open, second Open Championship, T-2 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, third PGA) – eagled the fourth hole and birdied the 13th to move into a tie with Furyk two strokes adrift of Dufner. But the Swede played the rest of the way in 2 over par and finished three back.

Adam Scott, who after a lifetime of major indifference has become a Grand Slam fixture, managed to move within three strokes of the lead with a birdie at the 12th but also failed to gain ground the rest of the way. Or maybe Dufner just wasn’t giving any, who is to say?

One by one they all faded at Choke Hill until only Dufner and Furyk remained.

The gritty American charged in a 12-footer at the 16th but Dufner answered with another laser approach to a foot to hold serve. Pressing, Furyk pulled his approach to the penultimate hole left into the hay and needed two from there to reach the green.

The final hole was a formality.

“I sat here and told you that I was going to have a good time today,” said Furyk, who began the day with a one-shot advantage but closed with 71. “I was going to have fun. I have no regrets.”

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the world Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, couldn’t say the same thing.

For those looking to keep the Wanamaker Trophy half full, Sunday’s 70 tied Woods’ best trip around the upstate gem in eight major championship laps. Unfortunately it did little to help his title chances or his demeanor.

“I put four good rounds together last week – unfortunately it wasn’t this week,” said Woods, who in his quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors has now gone 18 Grand Slam stops without winning one. “I didn’t seem to hit it as good and didn’t make many putts until the last few holes today. (I) certainly didn’t hit the ball good enough to be in it.”

Anecdotally, as proof things aren’t getting any easier for Woods in the majors, only Ben Hogan won five majors after turning 38. Woods will be 38 when he motors down Magnolia Lane in some eight months.

But that type of time constraint no longer seems to concern the other half of the world ranking marquee. Although Mickelson matched his worst round in a major on Saturday (78) and finished tied for 72nd out of a 75-player field, it wasn’t enough to spoil his post-Open Championship honeymoon.

“I want to forget these last couple of weeks. I’ll look at some film from the events I played well and just try to do the same thing I did there,” Mickelson said.

As Dufner made his way to the 18th green it was clear this one was going in the highlight reel for future reference. This wasn’t a work of art, as if the man who gave life to Dufnering was capable of a Mona Lisa, although his idol Hogan would have appreciated the ball-striking effort.

This didn’t have the sentimental symmetry of Scott’s victory at the Masters, or Justin Rose’s emotional Merion masterpiece, or even Mickelson’s walk-off brilliance at Muirfield. But don’t let the context cloud the accomplishment.

With his failure to convert that four-stroke lead at Atlanta Athletic Club hanging in the air, Dufner proved he was more than just a professional anomaly and social-media sensation.

“If anyone could come back from that it’s him,” said Bradley, who was halfway to the airport when he returned to Oak Hill to celebrate Dufner’s victory. “I’m sure he wasn’t even thinking about it out there. He just striped it all day. People think he’s all quiet, but he’s probably the loudest guy out here.”

He certainly made some noise on Sunday, one waggle at a time.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.