Jason Dufner had a pretty good day for himself at the PGA Championship. It rained in the morning on Oak Hill Country Club and he had an afternoon tee time. The rainy Rochester morning meant softer fairways that you could hit with drivers and greens you could hit like darts. And so his 63 broke the course record held by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange (and later in the day by Webb Simpson) by one and he was one stroke short of breaking the record for the lowest round in a major:
It was a great day for me, a good day to get out there and score. Obviously the rain, the soft golf course made it scorable. But to join history, to shoot a 63 in a major, pretty unbelievable, and to be leading the tournament, even better. So hopefully it will propel me to a great weekend.
He may look like a “slacker dude” with his stoic, non-plussed facial expression, but he’s actually quite a student of the game. And so the thing that made his record so exceptional was that he knew where he stood:
Yeah, I had heard it. I knew most the history of major championships, so I knew that nobody had shot 62, and the course record I had heard on TV earlier in the week.
So I knew where I stood and you couldn’t have a better putt for a chance at history on the last hole but I just didn’t quite hit it hard enough [par would have to suffice].
One of the attributes of a mature player is that they know where they stand, what’s at stake and still get the job done.
And he’s finally learned how to handle the additional motivation that comes with playing in majors:
No, there’s always motivation coming into majors. If you can’t get up and get excited to win one of these, then you probably shouldn’t be playing golf. So I think what’s happened in the past with me in majors is in the past, still trying to chase it, still trying to learn from the mistakes that I made in prior majors, and I’m excited that I’m in the lead and looking forward to a good weekend and maybe closing one of these out.
And once you gain that kind of confidence about your transcendence, you begin to free yourself up to do what needs to be done, like radically adjust your game plan:
Yeah, you know, for me, I felt like I could be more aggressive off the tee today. I hit driver just about on every hole with the exception of 12 and 13.
You know, earlier in the week, I was hitting different clubs off some of these holes. When it’s soft like this, I feel like it expands the fairway a little bit. You’re not getting the chase‑out into the rough. I’ve been driving it pretty good, which is going to give you obviously shorter clubs into these holes and you can be more in attack mode, so to speak, during this championship. And then if you do miss it in the rough like I did sometimes, you have shorter clubs in, because you’ve taken that chance.
So I think that’s one of the adjustments I made. Then obviously with the moisture on the greens, you can be very, very aggressive from the fairways.
And so, in his full “quiet guy” disguise, he sets out to separate himself from the field by making as many birdies as he can. It’s how undisturbed focus can be confused with stoicism:
I’m probably like everybody else but I can hide it a little bit better. Today was a little bit unusual because just of the buzz that was going on with the round that I was producing. Usually get that buzz towards the end of the championship. A little tough on Friday, you like it more of a casual, ‘I made the cut, I’m in good position’ type of rounds, but when you’re chasing history, it’s tough.
But in my head, I was just trying to get further and further away from the field, trying to make birdies.
And what do you know? Without trying to attract attention to himself, that unperturbed focus of his has attracted a pretty significant following. He has over 210,000 Twitter followers:
Yeah, the last couple of years, I’ve got a lot of support. People have kind of latched on with my personality and how I play golf and how I carry myself. It seems like every time we go to, I’m experiencing newer things with these types of fans. It’s great, to have a lot of support, people recognizing what you’re doing out there and identifying with you in whatever way they see fit is a great fit I think, and for me it’s neat, for people to want to come to the golf course and watch me play golf.
And with his new found confidence comes an ambivalence over whether he prefers having his 2-shot lead over Masters winner, Adam Scott, or would he rather be the pursuer?
You know, I think being in the lead is a good thing. There’s a lot of pressure and expectations from being in the lead. I’ve been in it a couple times. I think both times — actually, a mixed bag. The two events I won last year, I came from behind and won, and was in the lead of another going into Sunday.
So we’ve got tomorrow, it will be another tough day, a good test. It seems like a lot of guys are posting some good scores, so if conditions stay the same, I’m sure guys will be gunning for whoever might be leading. So I think it’s important to stay aggressive, and you know you kind of pick your spots maybe later in the tournament towards those last nine holes.
Because he played his round in the morning, Adam Scott’s first-to-post 7-under total puts him in the last group with Dufner. That should be something to watch. And the two other guys who ended up at 7-under, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk will be paired together in the next to last group. Kuchar is looking for his first major win and Furyk is looking for his second.
2013 U.S. Open Champion, Justin Rose, is at 6-under tied with Henrik Stenson looking to add a major to his Players Championship title; and he’s been hot lately.
After an heroic up-and-down day, Robert Garrigus, wound up at 5-under. He wiped out two early birdies with a double bogey, bounced back with a birdie, which he wiped out with a bogey, and then went on a four-birdie run on 9 through 12, before ending with another bogey on 18. But he’s looking fearless. He’ll be playing with the continuously vacationing Steve Stricker whose reduced-schedule strategy to peace and happiness seems to be working.
And then you have 2012 U.S. Open Champion, Webb Simpson, who tied the course record with is own 64. The CBS crew was joking about whether he would get a course record plaque as all course record holders do at Oak Hill even though he only held it until Dufner posted his 63. Simpson will be paired with German, Martin Kaymer, who seems to be going through a return to his heydays of two years ago.
Tiger Woods shot Even par on the day to Keegan Bradley’s 2-over. They are both at 1-over and will be paired together for the third straight day.
On the one hand, it sound like Tiger was being fairly philosophical about his flat round:
I made my share and missed my share. Just the way it goes
But on the other, he sounded a little resigned as he tried to talk himself into what he has to do on Saturday:
It’s going to be — I’m going to have do my job and shoot a good round. But also, then again, I’m so far back that if the leaders go ahead and run off with it and shoot a low one tomorrow, I’m going to be pretty far behind.
I have got to do my job tomorrow and go out there and post something in the mid to low 60s, like some of the guys did today. Some of the guys were 7‑under through 14, 7‑under through 14. It definitely can be done.
Phil Mickelson is at 2-over and will be paired with Vijay Singh. But he remains confident about his game and doesn’t sound as resigned to his fate as Tiger does:
I think that somebody on the weekend, somebody tomorrow is going to go out and shoot a low round. It’s out there.
I think it’s difficult when you are up near the lead and you are being forced to make birdies and pressed. I think that there is room and opportunity for guys to come from behind and get right in the mix.
But then, that’s Phil. Aren’t you glad we’re around to see this?