Jason Dufner: Riding a Roiling Leaderboard

The blustery and tricky winds are making for a tumultuous leaderboard at the HP Byron Nelson Championship at the TPC Four Seasons in Irving, Texas…except for one guy, Jason Dufner.

While all of his chasers from yesterday’s board fell by the wayside dropping anywhere from one to two strokes, Dufner managed to cruise around in 1-under 69:

Similar conditions as yesterday afternoon, so probably helped me a little bit, just being comfortable with the wind and how hard it was blowing.  Some of the guys who maybe played in the morning yesterday maybe didn’t have to deal with that as much, so maybe an advantage there.  Good ball striking, hit a lot of greens, a lot of balls in play.

That was helpful today and didn’t feel like I was scrambling too much, trying to save pars or out of position, anything like that.

That comes from being completely invested in what he was trying to do, knowing with some degree of confidence that he was capable of doing it and then creating and executing shots that matched his intentions. That’s all.

And since he was successful relative to his closest competitors after 36 holes, he had a relatively stress free round:

Jason, you said you didn’t feel like you were scrambling, and I don’t know if you saw the leaderboard but there were guys on top [who fell away] and here at the end of the day you are right where you were yesterday.  Talk about the feel for that and to be in the position you’re in.

It was a stress‑free round for me, like I said.  I was in position a lot off the tee, which enabled me to be aggressive with iron shots and didn’t have too many, you know, must‑make par putts.  I had one on 15, and 16 I got a little bit out of position, but for the most part it’s nice to play a round like that when the conditions are difficult.

The golf course is playing tough, and if you miss a shot or don’t judge the wind properly you’re going to be scrambling to make bogey.

To give you an idea of how steady he played, the other guys were making double and triple bogeys, but Dufner only made one to go with his two birdies. When your ball striking is that good — the thing that separates the men from the boys in the wind — you don’t want the wind to let up; you want it to blow!

Given how well your ball striking has been, really, for more than a year, do you want the conditions to be harder tomorrow?

Yeah, I think so.  I think that gives me a little bit of an advantage of how I’m hitting it right now.  I feel really comfortable with any shot that I need to hit.  I’m trying to work the ball into the wind a little bit so I’ve been able to hit draws with left or right wind, some cuts with right to left winds.

I feel real comfortable out there.  I think if it’s windy again tomorrow, that shrinks the people that could possibly contend, you know, it’s just going to be more difficult.  There is a premium on ball striking this week, I think.

But as it turns out, being able to sally forth into the wind might not be such a big deal on Sunday; it’s only supposed to blow a mild 5 to 10 miles per hour. This means there is now an opportunity for players to shoot low numbers and put Dufner’s placid nature to the test.

So the media began to look into other winning factors:

You have had opportunities to play with the lead recently.  Do you like it?  Are you feeling comfortable with it?

I feel pretty good with it.  It’s been pretty tight.  Last time in New Orleans was back and forth with Ernie; this week it’s going to be the same thing.  There are a lot of guys around the lead.  I feel good with where my game is at, what I’m doing out there, getting more comfortable playing in final groups and getting more comfortable trying to win these tournaments.  I think the more you do it the more comfortable you’re going to be, and the more successful you are, it’s going to carry over.

Or, asked another way:

If you could have a one‑stroke lead or one‑stroke deficit and play from behind, which would you choose going into the final round?

I kinda like both.  I know that’s a bad answer.  (Laughter.)  Neither one is bad, but there is a little different mind‑set.  It depends on what guys are doing and how the rounds are going for everybody.  I’m going to try and go out ‑‑ I think the front nine is possibly playing a little bit easier.  It would be great to shoot 3 or 4‑under on that front nine.  There are so many people around the lead, I’m not sure what the numbers are but probably 10 guys within two or three shots of the lead [it’s six with eight more within four shots], so that’s bunched up and anything can happen out there.

And then yet another tack to what other factors account for winning:

Jason, what have you learned about holding the lead?  Is it not panicking, not looking at the leaderboard?  What have you learned over the course of this?

One of the biggest lessons I have probably learned in the last two years or so is patience and the value of patience out here on the PGA Tour.  Guys ‑‑ yesterday I bogeyed two of the first three holes and possibly in the past I may have imploded and missed the cut or had a terrible day, but I kept telling myself there is a lot of golf to be played and to stick it out, and all of the sudden I chip in a couple, make a couple of long putts, and I’m leading.

Just the value of patience out here and knowing that not every shot is life or death. You can make up shots, you can make 50‑footers, you have to be patient.  It’s more of a test of patience than it is anything else, especially in these conditions, because it’s difficult to be out there and close one of these in this type of situation.

While yesterday’s immediate chasers fell down the leaderboard, a new cadre of three players shot 1 to 3-under to end up T2: J.J. Henry, Jason Day and Dicky Pride. And tucked just one shot behind them after shooting 4-under, the indomitable Vijay Singh.

So whatever is in store for Jason Dufner on Sunday, it won’t be easy. But then it rarely is on the PGA Tour.

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