Dufner conquers nerves (he has them!) for first win

By April 30, 2012, 1:27 am

AVONDALE, La. – Jason Dufner stood over the putt – not even 2 feet – and didn’t move. What was happening? He had missed other crucial putts in other tournaments, but never one this short. What was he thinking?

'I was thinking, ‘Just don't miss it. This is for the win,’' he said. 'I hate to admit it but those thoughts creep into your head. I just wanted to stroke that putt like I would with one hand on a Tuesday round at your home club.' 

Instead, he rolled it in conventionally, and as the ball fell, so did his status as a winless PGA Tour player. Now he was Jason Dufner, 2012 Zurich Classic of New Orleans champion. Winner in a playoff over Ernie Els.

He raised his arms in what looked like more shrug than celebration. Dufner may appear to lack a pulse at times on the course, but he insists his heart races like anyone else’s. 

'There's a lot of nerves out there,” he said. “I know it doesn't look that way with me, but it's stressful when you're trying to win.”

'I don't know how long he can keep it up, that wall, but he's doing a good job so far,' Els said, laughing. 'Kind of reminds me of myself back in the day.' 

Dufner, 35, had taken at least a share of the lead into the weekend five previous times in his PGA Tour career, including twice already this season. Until Sunday, he had failed to seal the deal. 

'There's been a good bit of pressure, people asking, 'Why haven't you been winning? Why can't you close the deal?'' Dufner said. 'Friends, family, media and even people in my inner circle were asking. To get that off my back, maybe that will jump-start me and get me thinking that I can compete out here and win some of these things.' 

Shedding the label of best player on Tour without a victory, however, required overcoming his own nerves and a three-time major champion. 

Dufner and Els finished tied at 19 under par after 72 holes at TPC Louisiana. Each could have won by birdieing the par-5 18th hole in regulation, but both settled for par. Dufner’s was especially disappointing, coming after he had made two birdies and an eagle on the hole in the first three rounds. 

To get to the 72nd hole with a chance to win, however, Dufner first had to escape almost certain doom at the 16th. Tied with Els on the tee and with a 3-wood in hand at the short par-4, Dufner tugged his tee shot through the fairway and into a water hazard.  

Caddie Kevin Baile let his man process what had happened and what he needed to do to get up and down for par. 

'When you've got the fastest horse in the race, you don't mess with him at all,' Baile said. 'That was probably the only bad shot he hit all week.' 

Looking at bogey or worse, Dufner had an 83-yard wedge shot which he played safe to 45 feet right of the hole. Then he snaked in the par save. 

'It's unexpected, but that's what I tried to do,' Dufner said. 'I knew I had to do it. I had that putt last year for birdie, so I was comfortable with it.' 

Dufner’s fiancée, Amanda Boyd, welled up with tears as the putt fell. 

'I had just heard really loud cheers for Ernie on the hole ahead and thought it was for birdie,” she said. “Then with Jason looking like he was going to make bogey or double bogey, I had that all running through my head. When he made that putt, tears came to my eyes. It was so exciting.' 

On the first playoff hole, No. 18, Dufner reached in two but three-putted. He thought the tournament had been lost as Els stood over a 5-footer for the win.  But the South African missed.

'A good mentality to have is to think that somebody is going to make a putt like that. A lot of guys think that way,' he said. 'Obviously it didn't go in, so I felt like I had a second chance.' 

Playing No. 18 again, Els was forced to lay up after driving into a fairway bunker. Dufner found the green in two for a second time, nearly in the identical spot as the first playoff hole. This time, his lag putt came to rest safely past the cup. 

After Els missed a 15-footer, Dufner stood frozen over his tap-in, finally stroking it into the hole.

Els was disappointed not to win for the 19th time on the PGA Tour and punch a ticket back to the Masters, which he missed this year for the first time since 1993.  

'Disappointing to lose but all in all, I had a good week,' he said. 'I really felt shooting those four rounds in the 60s the way I did, was really nice.  Just came up short.' 

Other than the putt he missed on the first playoff hole, Els could not blame his putter. He did not have a single three-putt green in four rounds.

'I didn't hit a great putt on that first playoff hole. It was a better putt than I hit in Tampa,' he said with a laugh, referring to a putt he missed on the final hole of the Transitions Championship that would have put him in a playoff. 'But it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be.' 

Both players will skip Quail Hollow next week. Dufner will marry Boyd  in Alabama. 'It's a great wedding present for both of us,' he said of his $1,152,000 winner’s check. 'It helps paying for the wedding, which is more expensive than I thought. It's a bit of a gift for her and a bit of a gift for me.'  

The newlyweds, however, will not be able to get away until later in the summer. It's back on Tour in two weeks. 

'The honeymoon's going to be at the Players Championship,” Dufner said. “Ever been there? It's nice.

“They have an island green.'

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Woods, Leishman, Fleetwood grouped at Northern Trust

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 10:55 pm

While 125 players qualified for The Northern Trust this week, only 120 have decided to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Here's a look at a few of the marquee, early-round tee times where players are grouped via FedExCup standing and Tiger Woods makes his first start since a runner-up performance at the PGA Championship (all times ET):

7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

Woods starts the postseason at No. 20 in the points race, with a great chance to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. He'll look to pad his point total this week in the Garden State, making his return to competition after a week off following a strong showing at Bellerive. He'll play the first two rounds with Leishman, who has two runner-up finishes this season, and Fleetwood, who nearly caught Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open.

8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

There should be no shortage of eye-popping drives from this trio, who comprise the top three in the season-long points race heading into the playoffs. Johnson holds the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the FedExCup, having won three times since January, while Thomas will look to become the first player to go back-to-back in the playoffs and Koepka hopes to add to a career year that already includes two majors.

8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

Simpson got back into the winner's circle in impressive fashion at The Players Championship, and he heads into the playoffs off a T-2 finish last week at the Wyndham Championship. Molinari cruised to victory at the Quicken Loans National before his major triumph at Carnoustie, while DeChambeau's win at the Memorial highlighted his season that brought him to the cusp of a Ryder Cup berth.

12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

Normally featured among the points leaders at this point in the season, Spieth heads into the playoffs at No. 43 in the standings, sandwiched between a pair of players whose best results came in playoff losses. Hossler has had a quietly strong season that was highlighted by a runner-up to Ian Poulter in overtime at the Houston Open, while An lost a playoff to DeChambeau at the Memorial.

12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

There will be four green jackets among this group, as the reigning Masters champ is joined by a pair of Ryder Cup hopefuls in Mickelson and Finau. Lefty broke a lengthy victory drought with his WGC-Mexico win in March but has largely slowed this summer, while Finau notched top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors to enter the discussion for possible picks for Paris.

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Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 10:00 pm

We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.

Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.

That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.

In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.

My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.

Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.

It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.

So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?

We hope it isn’t his back.

Or his neck.

Or his knees.

Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.

Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.

Competitively, it’s all that matters.

Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.

We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?

The game soars to yet another level with that.

A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.

So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.

The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.

They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.

They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.

Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.

And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.

The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.

Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.

For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.

There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.

Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.

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Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work

By Grill Room TeamAugust 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.

"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.

Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.

Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.

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Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 5:41 pm

Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.

Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.

A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.

The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.

"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."

The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.

Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.

Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.