A brand of 'group' therapy for Dufner at Auburn

A brand of ‘group’ therapy for Dufner at Auburn

Jason Dufner blew a five-shot lead late in the final round before losing to Keegan Bradley in a playoff.
Robert Beck/SI

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (AP) — Jason Dufner went from a devastating playoff loss at the PGA Championship to the next stop on the PGA Tour, but not before a brief detour for some group therapy.

A big group.

Dufner went to Auburn and has remained close with some of the football coaches, who called him Monday and asked him to come by the football complex. The Tigers had an off day, but Dufner got quite a surprise when he walked into one of the auditoriums.

“The whole team was in there, and they gave me a standing ovation,” Dufner said Tuesday. “So that’s pretty cool. I don’t know a lot of those guys personally as far as the players go. … You wouldn’t expect a 320-pound defensive lineman to be watching golf on Sunday, but they were. And for the coaches to take time out of their meetings and practice on Sunday saying, ‘We were checking text messages, watching when we could,’ that was a pretty neat experience for me.”

Dufner is the kind of player who doesn’t get too high or too low, and usually doesn’t let his mind get beyond the next shot. He had a four-shot lead with four holes to play when he made three straight bogeys and wound up losing to Keegan Bradley by one shot in a playoff.

Dealing with the loss apparently has been harder on those around him.

“Everybody that’s come up to me, I almost feel like it’s a funeral or something tragic,” he said. “I don’t feel that way at all. It was a great experience. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to win that event, but I had a great chance, best opportunity probably to win a tour event, so I feel good.”

“Maybe some guys are different. Maybe some guys would feel like it was a tragedy. But I don’t really look at it that way,” he said. “I’m disappointed with not being able to finish that tournament off with a W, but I’m a professional golfer. I’m going to continue to be a professional golfer.”

DUSTIN TO EUROPE?: The PGA Tour gets Rory McIlroy. The European Tour might be getting Dustin Johnson.

It’s not a straight-up trade since players have joint memberships, but Johnson is leaning toward joining the European Tour for the 2012 season. He already has played three European Tour events this year in South Korea, Germany and Sweden. Counting the four majors and World Golf Championships, he only needs a couple more to be a full-time member.

“I like traveling and seeing the world,” Johnson said before leaving the PGA Championship.

Johnson said he doesn’t have to decide until December.

The appeal is his enjoyment of European Tour events, and he considers the Race to Dubai an additional perk.

“You get two shots to win a money title,” he said. “Both would be nice to win.”

McILROY PLANS: U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy still hasn’t figured out his 2012 schedule when he takes up PGA Tour membership, although it doesn’t sound as though he’s going to play the bare minimum tournaments required.

“My guess is he might play more anyway,” said Chubby Chandler, his agent at International Sports Management.

There will be a few changes. Chandler said McIlroy likely will not play the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, which he did two years ago when he was a PGA Tour member. He also plans to swap out the Memorial, hosted by Jack Nicklaus, for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. McIlroy finished fifth at Muirfield Village, but it was his third straight week before a major.

“We’ll write a letter to Mr. Nicklaus, and Mr. Palmer will be really happy, won’t he?” Chandler said. “But I think Rory feels a responsibility as a U.S. Open champion to play more.”

Depending on how he fares, McIlroy won’t have to play all four FedEx Cup events. After all, two of the four champions wound up missing the first playoff event – Tiger Woods in 2007 because he didn’t enter, and Jim Furyk last year because he was disqualified for missing his pro-am time.

Chandler said Masters champion Charl Schwartzel won’t be playing the Barclays next week.

“Until the PGA Tour works out a (points) system that entices the guys to play, they won’t take advantage of it,” Chandler said.

MAJOR RECAP: No one played the majors better this year than Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, and that’s nothing new.

Not only was Schwartzel among 11 players who made the cut in all four majors, he had the lowest aggregate score at 14-under par. He was followed by Steve Stricker and Sergio Garcia at 4 under, with U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy at 2 under.

Garcia, who started the year assured of playing only the Masters, made the cut in all four majors for the first time since 2002.

It was the second year in a row that Schwartzel made the cut in all four majors. Schwartzel and Phil Mickelson share the longest active cut streak in the majors at nine, dating to Turnberry in 2009 – the South African missed the cut, and Mickelson didn’t play.

The others to make the cut in all four majors: Bill Haas, Edoardo Molinari, Ryan Palmer, Bubba Watson, Gary Woodland and Y.E. Yang.

On the other side were Jonathan Byrd and Hiroyuki Fujita, who failed to qualify for the weekend at any major this year. Byrd ran his missed cut streak in the majors to eight tournaments. He last made a major cut at Carnoustie in 2007.

MASTERS DOWN UNDER: The Australian Masters might have the No. 1 player in the world for the second time in three years.

Only this time, it will be Luke Donald.

Despite getting bumped on the schedule to a month after the Presidents Cup in Melbourne – it had been held the last two years the week before the matches – the Australian Masters will have Donald, Ian Poulter, Italian teen Matteo Manassero and defending champion Stuart Appleby on Dec. 15-18 at Victoria Golf Club.

Tiger Woods was No. 1 when won the Australian Masters in 2009 before record crowds at Kingston Heath. It remains his last win. Woods was No. 2 in the world when he defended his title last year at Victoria.

Woods is no longer with IMG, which runs the event. He instead has signed on to play the Australian Open. Donald and Manassero are IMG clients.

DIVOTS: Pine Valley is No. 1 in Golf Magazine’s 15th biennial list of top 100 courses in the United States and the world. The magazine relied on a panel of 100 voting members, including major champions and architects. Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Augusta were the top three in the U.S. and world lists. In America, Shinnecock Hills and Pebble Beach rounded out the top five, while the world list had St. Andrews and Royal County Down. … The Old Course at St. Andrews has raised its green fee by about $15. It now cost about $250 in the peak time of the year. … The Phoenix Open raised just over $4 million to give to local charities. Since the tournament first signed on a title sponsor in 2003, it has raised more $46.4 million.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods played eight times on the PGA Tour this year and earned $629,863 from a combined purse of $62.8 million. As a 20-year-old rookie in 1996, he played eight times and earned $790,594 from a combined purse of $11.95 million.

FINAL WORD: “I don’t see how you can see anything negative from losing in a playoff in a major, other than not winning.” – Jason Dufner, who lost in a playoff at the PGA Championship after losing a four-shot lead with four holes to play.

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