ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Your new PGA champion is a club-wagglin’ Ben Hogan disciple who took up the game late and would like to quit the Tour by age 40. He is a mascot of sorts for the Auburn Tigers, has a body built by fried mozzarella sticks (but will tell you he’s never been injured), and is so underrated he once nearly won the U.S. Open and wasn’t asked to do a single interview.
Two years after losing the PGA in a playoff to Keegan Bradley, laid-back Jason Dufner put on a ball-striking clinic, shooting a relatively stress-free, 2-under-par 68 to win the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on Sunday.
“For whatever reason today, I felt really comfortable,” said Dufner, whose winning share of the purse is $1.445 million. “I felt really calm and felt like I could do it. I felt like I could give myself a chance and pull this out.”
Jim Furyk shot 71 to finish second, two back.
It was the third Tour win for Dufner, 36, and his first major title. He began the day a stroke behind playing partner Furyk, but pulled ahead with a 3-under 32 on the front nine and hung onto a two-stroke lead for the entire back nine.
“Wish I could have put a little heat on him and made him work those last two holes a little bit harder,” said Furyk, who made just two birdies on the day.
Dufner, who broke the Oak Hill course record with a second-round 63, is the 16th first-time major winner since the start of 2009, a span of 20 majors. Although he three-putted the difficult 17th hole for bogey, and missed the green to bogey 18, it was of little consequence, as he’d given himself plenty of wiggle room. He hugged his wife, Amanda, and Bradley as he walked off the 18th green.
One by one his would-be challengers fired, only to fall back. Henrik Stenson got to 9 under par with a birdie at the par-5 13th hole, where he reached the green in two, but found his tee shot in a divot on 14 and bogeyed the tiny, defenseless par 4.
“That kind of killed the outside chances I had on the back nine to make a charge,” said Stenson, whose 70 gave him third place at 7 under, another fine result in a year that also saw him finish runner-up to Phil Mickelson at the British Open three weeks ago, 21st at the U.S. Open and 18th at the Masters.
Fellow Swede and playing partner Jonas Blixt got to 8 under with a birdie on the 16th hole but bogeyed 17 and 18 and shot 70 to finish 6 under, in fourth alone.
Adam Scott made five birdies but also five bogeys to shoot 70 and finish in a tie for fifth with Scott Piercy, who shot the lowest round of the day, a 5-under 65.
“The rough got me,” said Scott, who hit just six fairways and nine greens in regulation. “I was in the long stuff too much today to really have a good chance.”
This major was supposed to be all about Tiger Woods and Mickelson, but neither was sharp. Woods shot a final-round 70 for 40th place, while Mickelson was even more erratic, signing for a 72 that left him in 72nd place. Defending PGA champ Rory McIlroy, perhaps emerging from his slump, bettered both of them with a final-round 70 to finish 3 under, seven shots back and tied for eighth.
For all his superlative ball-striking, Dufner has always flown under the radar. Some of that is by design and because he’s happy to be left alone. But when he tied for fourth at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club last year, and was leading the money list at the time, and no one asked him to do a single interview, well, Dufner felt overlooked. “I’m really close to Amanda, I work really hard at golf -- I don’t have this extravagant story,” Dufner said in a long sit-down with Golf Magazine last year in his hometown of Auburn, Ala. “I didn’t work in a chemical plant and fight orangutans like Boo Weekley or these people that the media gravitate toward. I don’t have a superstar draw like Tiger Woods. That’s just how I am.”
Among Dufner’s most prized possessions is a signed, framed photograph of Hogan that his wife gave him for a wedding present. Dufner has been fascinated by excellence ever since he was a teenager following Vijay Singh around the course as a standard-bearer at the Honda Classic. Who succeeds? Who doesn’t? And why? For Dufner, the difference has been not just working with instructor Chuck Cook but also using visualization techniques he found in a small book about Russian weightlifters. He is obsessively allergic to clutter and unfailingly goal-oriented in his practice sessions, the latter trait being something he tries to impart to the next generation as a volunteer coach with the Auburn Tigers golf team.
Still, Dufner said after Sunday’s win, some clutter had crept into his life. He had regrets about his loss to Bradley at the 2011 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“You always carry those scars with you,” Dufner said. “He always jabbed at me a little bit about having one of these in his house” -- Dufner pointed to the PGA Championship (Wanamaker) trophy sitting in front him on the dais -- “and thanks me for giving it to him and all that stuff. And now I’ve got one, too.”
Dufner had circled this date on his calendar a long time ago. He had played Oak Hill and knew it was a ball-striker’s golf course, the type of course where a so-so putter like Dufner could do pretty well. Wife Amanda collected acorns from the course all week in hopes of planting an oak tree on their property in Auburn.
“We got a sapling, actually, the other day from the general manager here at Oak Hill,” Dufner said. “So at least that one will take root.”
They will watch that tree grow as their family does. Although Jason is an only child, Amanda comes from a big brood and Jason has said they plan to have “at least three” children. He would like to retire by 40, if possible, not only because he hates the travel of touring golf but because he’d like to watch his kids grow up.
Jason Dufner: Student of excellence, PGA champion, Dad. That’ll do.