Jason Dufner handles wind, and draws crowds, like a local at Byron Nelson

Saturday May 19th, 2012
Jason Dufner won last month in New Orleans.
Fred Vuich/SI

IRVING, Texas -- You should see Jason Dufner these days. Not the waggle -- though it is smooth and rhythmic and Kevin Na should borrow it -- but his galleries. They aren’t large, but they get after it.

“It started last year after the PGA, playing in the Atlanta area, I started getting a following,” Dufner said Friday after a lovely 66 in a Texas gale gave him a one-shot lead heading into the weekend at the Byron Nelson Championship. “And being from the South, you get a lot of Auburn fans. People are recognizing me off the golf course.

"It can be a little overwhelming if you’re not used to it, so me and Amanda are adjusting to it a little bit. But it’s been good. I like the fact that people know and respect my golf game and want to root for me.”

Dufner, who married Amanda Boyd earlier this month right after getting his first Tour win at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, told a funny story about going from an anonymous golfer to one who has become a fixture on leader boards.

“Amanda made a comment last week [at the Players],” Dufner said. “Usually when you’re not playing good, they’re saying, ‘Oh, this guy is terrible.’ Now they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s just having a bad day.’ I feel like I got a lot of people rooting for me right now.”

Dufner does. On Friday, playing alongside Jhonattan Vegas and Louis Oosthuizen, Dufner’s game was immune from the 30-mile-per-hour winds at the TPC Four Seasons Resort at Las Colinas. He played his final 13 holes in six under par, chipping in for birdie on 15 and 18.

Like many of the players chasing him, Dufner is at ease in the wind. Downwind, he can launch his ball high. Into the wind, he can keep it low.

It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another to see it in action. The trees and flagsticks were dancing Friday, but Dufner addressed his ball with that low waggle and hit beauty after beauty.

“The biggest thing for me is I feel like I can control my golf ball,” Dufner said. “I feel like I can work it in the wind when I need to hit high shots [or] low shots. For me, ballstriking is pretty high up there with what I’m doing well, and I think that can help me out a little bit this weekend.”

Dufner won’t be the only golfer happy in the wind. Behind him are a gaggle of players who sling it low, including Texans Chad Campbell and Ryan Palmer, neighbors in nearby Colleyville.

“I probably live a 5-wood away from Chad,” Palmer said. “We both know how to work the ball well in the wind.”

Palmer nearly won the Nelson a year ago, making birdie on the 72nd hole to get into a playoff with Keegan Bradley. Palmer found the water on his approach shot on the first extra hole and lost.

“I keep telling myself, ‘Redemption,’” Palmer said. “This time, be the guy standing with the trophy. That’s been my focus leading up to the start of this tournament.”

Campbell, despite living so close to the course, has never mastered it.

“I know the course probably as well as anybody, and you definitely think [I] would play better,” he said. “Some courses set up great for players, and they play good there all the time, and there are some courses that players like and they never play well.”

Dufner may not be local, but he certainly seems to feel at home here. He stands on the tee boxes and sees nothing but fairway. If the last two rounds of tournaments used to be a danger zone for him, he feels different now when he goes into the weekend with a lead. He knows he can close, as his new trophy proves.

And no matter how many Texans are on the leader board, Dufner will have a crowd in his corner.

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