Dufner holds off Furyk at PGA for 1st major title

Published 11:24 am Monday, August 12, 2013

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Jason Dufner walked off the 18th green, after casually pumping his fists in what passed for a raucous celebration. There was a familiar face waiting for him.

The last time they met in this situation, it was Keegan Bradley accepting the Wanamaker Trophy.

This time, it belonged to Dufner.

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Granted, it was two years later than it should have been. That only made it sweeter.

“I’m proud of you,” Bradley said, giving his buddy a hug.

“Thanks a lot,” Dufner replied. “It means a lot for you to be here.”

With ice in his veins and a determination not to let another opportunity slip away, Dufner claimed his first major title with a two-shot victory over Jim Furyk in the PGA Championship on Sunday.

There was a certain symmetry to the way it went down, for Dufner to get the biggest win of his career in the very same tournament that produced his biggest heartache.

On a Sunday afternoon in 2011, Dufner strolled to the 15th tee at Atlanta Athletic Club with a four-shot lead in the PGA. He promptly dumped his ball in the water, while Bradley started making birdies up ahead. By the time they had both finished 72 holes, it was all even.

Bradley, of course, won the playoff.

Dufner kept insisting he would get another chance.

“I was probably over what happened in Atlanta, 95 percent of it, by the time we got back home,” he said.

But, he conceded, “You always carry those scars with you.”

They didn’t show on a warm, sunny day at Oak Hill, a venerable course that Dufner considers one of his favorites.

After he rolled in a testy little 3-footer to save par at the first hole, he went on cruise control. His tee shots were long and accurate. His irons were dead solid perfect. If not for some shaky strokes with the putter, he would’ve won this thing by a much greater margin.

As it was, there was nothing too dramatic about the final two hours.

Just as one would expect from the guy who gave us “Dufnering.”

“I would say I was pretty flat-lined for most of the day,” he said. “For whatever reason, I felt really comfortable, really calm, and felt like I could do it.”

Until the final major of 2013, Dufner had endured a mostly forgettable year. His most noteworthy moment came in April, when he was caught on camera during a charity appearance at an elementary school — sitting on the floor, propped up against a wall of the classroom, arms rigidly at his side, a dazed look on his face.

It turned out to be his calling card.

“Ran with it and it helped me a lot,” Dufner said. “I got a lot of fans because of it and people identified with me through it.”

Down a stroke to Furyk at the start of the round, and all even as they went to the eighth hole, Dufner knocked his approach shot past the flag and spun the ball back in his direction, watching it roll to a stop about a foot from the cup for as easy a birdie as you’re likely to see. Or, more accurate, would see three times on this day. That’s how well Dufner was striking the ball.

At the ninth, Dufner pulled off a nifty up-and-down to save par, while Furyk wasted a tee shot in the fairway and made bogey. Suddenly, the margin was two shots as they made the turn.

That’s how it remained, all the way around the back nine, as the two guys in the final group posted the exact same score on every hole.

“I wish I could have put a little heat on him,” Furyk said, “make him work those last two holes a little bit harder.”

Furyk bogeyed the final two holes for a 1-over 71. Dufner did the same, leaving him with a 68 for the final round and at 10-under 270 overall.

He finished it off with a tap-in from a few inches away.

About as exciting as Dufner himself.

“I had a bit of a cushion there,” he said, before taking a poke at his struggles on the greens. “That last putt was in the perfect range for me to make. There’s not much to celebrate from six inches or less, but it’s nice to have that short of a putt to cap this off.”

Henrik Stenson (70) finished three shots back, missing a chance to become the first Swedish man to capture a major championship. Another Swede, Jonas Blixt, was four behind the winner.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were long gone by the time the leaders teed off.

Woods’ winless streak in the majors is now more than five years long, and this one was especially perplexing. Just a week earlier, he wrapped up a dominating seven-stroke victory at the Bridgestone. He never got anything going at Oak Hill, putting up four straight rounds in the 70s and finishing a whopping 14 shots behind Dufner.

“Just the way it goes,” Woods said.

Mickelson was only three weeks removed from one of the greatest closing rounds in major championship history at Muirfield, rallying to claim his first British Open title.

Lefty apparently left his swing on the other side of the Atlantic. After four days of spraying shots all over the place, he finished 22 shots behind in a tie for 72nd place. Only two players fared worse on the weekend.

Dufner is looking ahead to bigger things. He wants to win more tournaments, win more majors, get in the mix for team events like the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He’s also got plans at home, picking up a sapling from the general manager at Oak Hill. He’ll plant it on the new spread he and his wife are building in Alabama.

“First major championship at Oak Hill,” he said. “Some of their oak trees out there hopefully on our property.”

And, please, no more questions about what happened in Atlanta.

“(Bradley) always jabbed at me a little bit about having one of these in his house, and thanks for giving it to him and all that stuff,” Dufner said, the Wanamaker Trophy at his side.

“Now, I’ve got one, too.”