Dufner wins first major

ROB CARR / GETTY IMAGES Jason Dufner celebrates on the 18th green after earning his first major title.
ROB CARR / GETTY IMAGES Jason Dufner celebrates on the 18th green after earning his first major title.
Posted: August 13, 2013

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Two years ago in Atlanta, Jason Dufner was leading the PGA Championship by four with as many holes to play. He still wasn't able to close things out and went down in a playoff with Keegan Bradley.

A lot of guys never get over that kind of flameout.

This time, the 36-year-old, self-described Ben Hogan junkie was up two in the season's final major heading to the back nine at Oak Hill Country Club. This time, it would remain that way all the way to the celebration. Even two closing bogeys, which matched the pair that his final-group playing partner Jim Furyk was also making, couldn't keep him from finishing off the ultimate mulligan.

Dufner's 2-under par 68 gave him a 270, the lowest score for any major held here, four better than Jack Nicklaus shot in the 1980 PGA.

"I can't believe this is happening to me," said the former Auburn Tiger, who through a college connection stayed with the same family that hosted Lee Trevino in the 1968 U.S. Open when he won the first of his six majors. "To come back from a couple of years ago feels really, really good.

"I decided I was going to be confident, be aggressive and try to win. I wasn't going to play scared, or soft. That's when you sometimes get careless and make mistakes. I'm happy to get it done. It's a big step in my career."

You think?

Dufner, who was a little shaky with short putts all weekend, was finally left with a tap-in for the Wanamaker Trophy that even Jean Van de Velde couldn't have messed up. Then he shared a greenside hug with his wife, Amanda. Of course, the television cameras caught him giving her a pat on the backside, too. Hey, it was their moment. Did we mention that she collected acorns all week to plant on the 50 acres back in Alabama where they plan to build a home?

"It's going to be amazing," Dufner said. "We have plenty of space to grow trees. We also got a sapling from the course manager. So hopefully we'll have something on the property that will take root."

He also got what he called a bro hug from Bradley, who had finished some 3 hours earlier and was on his way to the airport before turning around to offer his personal congratulations.

"You always carry those little scars with you," said Dufner, who closed with a 67 at Merion in June. That included a late triple-bogey, giving him a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open, his second straight in that major. "[Bradley will] jab me, you know, like saying, 'I got a trophy, thanks.' Now I got one too.

"He said, 'I'm proud of you.' I told him, 'It means a lot for you to be here.' "

Dufner became the third first-time major winner this year, joining Masters champion Adam Scott and Merion winner Justin Rose. He also becomes just the sixth of the 26 men who've shot 63 in a major, which he did Friday, to go on and win the tournament. The others were Johnny Miller (1973 U.S. Open), Nicklaus (1980 U.S. Open), Ray Floyd (1982 PGA), Greg Norman (1986 British Open) and Tiger Woods (2007 PGA). Some company.

The world's 21st-ranked player started the day one behind Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champ, who hadn't been able to hold on the last four times he was ahead anywhere after three rounds. But Dufner drew even with a birdie on No. 4, and went in front with another bird on the next hole. Furyk then caught him with one of his own at the sixth. It was good stuff from the last two out there, which doesn't always happen on these stages. Dufner took the lead, as it turned out for keeps, with a bird at 8. The advantage doubled when Furyk dropped a stroke at 9.

Dufner, who had six consecutive 1-putts on the front side, missed three chances to extend the margin to three. After both made six straight pars, each birdied the 16th. Furyk first, from about 12 feet, which he had to have because Dufner basically had a virtual gimme, his third of the round. You don't see that too much on the last day of a major, either. Dufner could have put it away on 17 but he missed a 3-footer. It was his first bogey in 27 holes. After both missed the green short on 18, they each made one more. It didn't matter.

"Fortunately, I had a little bit of a cushion," Dufner acknowledged. "That last putt was right in the perfect range for me. I haven't practiced many 4- or 6-inch putts to win. But it was the perfect ending for me."

It wasn't Shaun Micheel hitting a 7-iron to within inches at the last PGA here a decade ago. But it means the same.

"My name will always be on the trophy," Dufner said. "Nobody can take that away from me."

Furyk, who hadn't had a top 10 in this major since 2002, shot 71, his worst score of the week. He didn't lose, he got beat. There's a difference, even it probably won't make him feel any better, especially at 43 after all his other major near-misses.

Fellow Swedes Henrik Stenson (70) and Jonas Blixt (70), who was making his PGA debut, got third and fourth, respectively, at 273 and 274. Stenson has now been no lower than third in his last four starts, with no wins. That includes a second at last month's British Open.

Scott (70), who's played as well in majors as anyone the past few years with still the lone win, was next at 275 with Scott Piercy (65). David Toms (67), the 2001 champ, was next at 276. Jason Day (67), 2007 Masters champ Zach Johnson (68), Dustin Johnson (69) and defending champ Rory McIlroy (70) tied at 277.

There have now been 19 different winners of the last 21 majors, for those charting it at home. It's life in the Tiger-free landscape.

That's not Dufner's problem.

"It was a tough test for me," he said. "I was pretty nervous over that first 3-footer. There's going to be nerves when you're trying to win a major championship. I hit some shots close early that made it easier, so I didn't put as much pressure on my putter. I was determined to play well, give myself a chance. I watch a lot of sports, to see how different people respond to pressure. I try to learn from everyone. I think it helps in these situations . . .

"It's definitely going to change my life. I'm determined not to let it change me. I hope it propels me to some better things. You never know if you belong until you do it."

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