2013 PGA Championship: Prepare For a Cerebral Final Round

Sunday’s final round at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, probably comes down to one of these six players:

  • -9 — Jim Furyk
  • -8 — Jason Dufner
  • -7 — Henrik Stenson
  • -6 — Jonas Blixt
  • -5 — Steve Stricker
  • -5 — Adam Scott

In addition, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood are both at -3, they’ll be playing together in a comfortable pairing and have to be included as outside contenders just because of who they are and what we know they are capable of doing. 

But the top-6 players are the most likely contenders, particularly because the PGA will be setting the course up tough. No more 63s like Jason Dufner shot on Friday. It will help the PGA’s resolve when we know that the course is going to be firming up after the early-week rains making it a little bit harder to hit fairways and greens.

So in the meantime, all but Adam Scott went to the media center after their rounds. He went to the range according to Colin Montgomerie’s Golf Channel comments, “so he still thinks he can win. He wouldn’t have gone otherwise.”

But picking through the transcripts of the top-4 players, they had some pretty interesting comments in there about the mental side of the game, or as I prefer, the mastery side of the game.

Beginning with the leader, Jim Furyk, he made the distinction between being nervous in a big tournament situation and being relaxed. And does that adrenaline flow?

I think it does naturally, yes.  But that’s a good feeling.  That’s something to look forward to, when you’ve got a little nerves working and you’re a little excited; and to me, I think at that point, it’s kind of — it’s more fun to play golf.  I think it’s a little easier to focus when you’re nervous if, that makes sense.  You really start honing in on targets.

Also it can cause you to get quick a little bit, too, just you’re excited and you want to do things faster and faster and you want to get to the shot.

But you’re always — coming down the stretch, I think relaxed doesn’t mean that I’m not nervous.  I think it means that I’m comfortable with the position I’m in and I’m having fun with it if that makes sense, rather than getting tight.

He was asked if winning a second major was made more difficult by heightened expectations he may be putting on himself. His response was quite interesting because it dealt not only with holding himself blameless for his subsequent losses, it also went right to the issue of staying in the present:

I don’t know if it makes it any more difficult.  You know, winning any tournament is difficult.  Winning any major championship is a difficult feat.

I guess if I’m putting heightened expectations on myself, or by what you’re saying it would make it my fault.  That would mean I would be approaching the situation in an improper manner, and I may have done that in the past, and I’m trying not to let that happen in the future, or in the present right now.  But I’m going to, like I said, I’m relaxed, I’m going to enjoy tomorrow just like I had fun today.

Earlier on, the reason why I was able to turn the round around and the reason why after I shot 68s after the bogeys, I was comfortable with myself and the situation.  It wasn’t really about expectations.  It was just about playing the shot and moving forward.

Due largely to his persona, Jason Dufner comes across as a plodder. Is that really so?

I’ve just always been that way.  There’s been a couple of times today where I was pretty frustrated with things, little I guess perturbed, you could say, with the way things were going.  You know, in a major championship especially you have got to plod a long.

Par is a pretty good score.  Made a lot of pars today.  It keeps you in it.  If you lose your head out there you can lose track.  All of a sudden you are kicking yourself the next day because you are out of the tournament.  I think it’s important to stay even keel for the most part.

But what happens when you hit a bad shot? How do you keep it together then?

You just get over it.  You walk to the next shot.  You might talk to yourself sternly on the way and then when you get ready for the next shot, you go.  That’s a great attribute with a lot of golfers out here is to be able to put things behind them and move on to the next thing whether — you’d like it to be every shot.  Sometimes it’s the next round or the next tournament.

There is a lot of guys that — only one guy wins. So there’s a lot of disappointment out here for 155 guys each week.  I think that’s a trait golfers kind of pick up if you are going to be a pro out here and playing for a living.

Does he find playing in these majors enjoyable? He talks about compartmentalizing thoughts and “being” confident

It was enjoyable at certain points of the round, not enjoyable at other points.  It’s tough to be out there competing for these championships.  It’s what I’ve always practiced for and what I’ve always dreamed for.  In that sense, it’s fun.

But these [major] golf courses put a lot of stress on your game.  You have got to be really prepared and when doubt creeps in to kind of put that in another spot in your mind and be confident.  It’s kind of a tussle out there between yourself and your mind.

And what can he take away from his loss to Keegan Bradly in the 2011 PGA Championship that would be helpful this Sunday?

Patience.  There’s a lot of guys that have a chance to win this tomorrow.  It’s a tough golf course.  Guys are going to make bogeys.  Guys are going to make birdies.  You don’t have to play perfect to win these events.  You’d like to play perfect, but, you know, I just think patience is of the utmost importance on a Sunday in a major.

You’re never really out of it, even if you make a bogey or two in a row, you can always come back and have a chance to win that thing on the back nine.

The next to last tee time on Sunday is the Swedish tee time. Both Henrik Stenson and Jonas Blixt have legitimate chances to win this thing, and if they do, they’ll be the first male Swede to win a major. Stenson would dearly love to do that, but he is more committed to staying in the present by thinking about the shots rather than looking ahead:

Whether it be the first Swede — at this point it would be the same as winning my first major championship.

But yeah, it would be lovely.  But we’re still a long ways away from that.  There’s no point thinking about tomorrow and thinking ahead of things.  It’s all about going out and doing the same things.  It’s going to be a big challenge again tomorrow to keep the mind in the right place, and if I can do that, I hope I can have a chance on the back nine.

But it’s a pretty packed leaderboard.  There’s going to be a few guys with a good chance, so there’s no point thinking about the future.  It’s about thinking about the shots I’m going to play and how to play them.

Looking at the leaderboard, Jonas Blixt doesn’t have a number he feels he has to shoot on Sunday. He just sucks it up and goes for it:

I never really think about that stuff.  We’ll see where the leaders are today and I’ll adjust to that.  Just go out and try to fire.

When I play well, I play aggressive.  I get a lot of criticism for that sometimes.  If I don’t play aggressive then I wouldn’t be standing here.  So it’s going to go out there tomorrow and do my best and play aggressive and try to make as many birdies as possible.

It’s a lot nicer to play the last few holes if you’re leading with a couple of shots than on the bubble.  I don’t even know if I’m going to be there tomorrow.  So we’ll see what happens.

Blixt faces a pretty big opportunity on Sunday. But he tries not to think of it in those terms:

Try not to think that way.  Then you get caught up in stuff that you — things that you shouldn’t think about.  I try to always downplay it.  You know, it’s a golf tournament, and I know it’s a major and it’s huge and it’s one of my goals to win one.  But if I start thinking about that stuff, I can probably pack my bags and go home tonight.

Given the 5-iron he whistled out of trouble on the 18th to set up an easy 3-foot birdie, it seems like he has a lot of right thinking going on in his game. And, of course, won’t be going home Saturday night.

And given the excitement of Saturday’s round and the prospects for more on Sunday, most of us won’t be going anywhere either.

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