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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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.