Dufner grabs PGA spotlight with record-tying 63

By Ryan LavnerAugust 10, 2013, 12:57 am

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Did you see it?

It happened right there, on the 18th green, with a chance to rewrite history.

It happened when Jason Dufner, the PGA Tour’s most placid player, finally surrendered to the moment.  

He was leading the 95th PGA Championship, but more important he was 12 feet away from immortality, from being the first player to shoot 62 in a major championship.

Not Tiger. Not Jack. Not Norman. Not Player. Not Faldo. Certainly not Johnny.

It would be Duf, all alone.

And he left the birdie putt short.

“It’s tough when you’re chasing history,” he would say later, after his 7-under 63 Friday left him two shots clear heading into the weekend at Oak Hill. “You will be the first one to do something. I don’t think I’ve been the first to do anything in my life.”

Twenty-six times now a player has shot 63, and it takes a special confluence of events. The setup must be conducive to low scores. (Several hours earlier, Webb Simpson shot 64.) The conditions must be perfect, and we certainly had that, too: no wind and a rain-softened track. And the player must be dialed in with his irons (15 greens hit) and making putts (26).

The last to accomplish the feat was Steve Stricker, who shot 63 in the opening round of the 2011 PGA. That was the major that Dufner should have won, the major that he had a five-shot lead with three holes to play, the major that he kicked away down the stretch and lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.

Ironically, Stricker played with Dufner on Friday and seemed to enjoy the show. And why not? Two years ago, when Stricker was making his own run at history, he was so engrossed in how he was playing that he didn’t even realize his score. He missed a 10-footer on the last that would have given him the first 62 in major history.

“There’s something about breaking that magical 63 barrier that is tough to do,” Stricker said.

“It’s just hard to shoot 62,” Dufner said. “I’m sure there’s a mental hurdle for some guys to break that barrier.”

Mental hurdle? Dufner doesn’t look like he even has any. If he did, he would probably just stare at them, unimpressed, and then walk around.

Apparently, though, he has a calm exterior and a conga party inside.

“He was aware (down the stretch), for sure,” Stricker said. “He’s very calm. I’m sure he was churning on the inside.”

After missing a 10-footer on 15, Dufner came back with a 6-foot birdie on the 16th to move to 7 under for the day and sound the 62 alarms.  

So overwhelmed, Dufner pured a hybrid from the middle of 17 fairway and stuffed a thick pinch of tobacco into his lower lip. The move delighted his legion of followers, each donning red “Duf’s Dips” shirts. They probably would have Dufnered too, if not for the muddy walkways or the fear of being trampled by the huge galleries.

When his 20-foot birdie putt on the hardest hole on the course burned the edge, he emoted in the most Dufner way possible – by slightly tilting back his head. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Photographers couldn’t miss that Dufnerian outburst.

As he stood on 18 tee, a plane towing a Texas Roadhouse banner crawled across the blue sky. Apropos for Dufner, it read, “Y’all Look Hungry.” Nine waggles later, he launched a drive that came to rest just a few paces off the center line. He la-di-da’d his way down the fairway, oblivious to the “63!” cheers.

There were 11 waggles for his approach, a 6-iron from 203 yards, and the ball was dead on-line, dropping near its pitch mark, 12 feet short of the cup.

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Photos: 63s in major championships

As Dufner marched up toward the green, the fans in the 18th grandstand rose to a standing ovation, and he responded with a gentle tip of the cap, like the new cult figure does in those cheesy Comcast commercials.

Twelve feet from major history, he made one practice stroke and took three peeks at the cup. The putt was uphill, into the grain, and with a minefield of spikemarks dotting his path …  

And he left the putt short. Not just short. A foot short. So short, in fact, that for the first time in hours, he mustered a smirk. Did you see it?

“You couldn’t have a better putt for a 62, and I left it short in the jar,” said Dufner, who settled for the new course record.

“It was tough to see him leave that last putt short,” Stricker said, shaking his head.

“I was kind of pulling for him, to be honest with you,” Jim Furyk said. “That’s a pretty good feat.”

The 62 Watch over, at least temporarily, the focus shifts to the tournament that Dufner now leads at 9-under 131. It’s an even better position than he enjoyed two years ago outside Atlanta, where he held a share of the lead after both the second and third rounds of the PGA, had a comfortable advantage on the back nine, and still couldn’t take home the Wanamaker.

Visible or not, nerves showed up that Sunday afternoon, just like they did Friday at Oak Hill. They are cracks in the laid-back exterior, major pressure exposing all. Did you see them?

After his second round, while signing his card in the clubhouse, Dufner turned to Stricker and said, “This is a lot for a Friday.” 

Rest assured, this weekend will once again strain the Tour’s most placid player – he’ll just try to hide it.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.