Jason Dufner wanting a win to back up ranking

Jason Dufner wanting a win to back up ranking

Jason Dufner lost a playoff at the PGA last year.
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PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) – Jason Dufner is in a new category that can be interpreted as a compliment or an insult.

There's a label for the best to have never won a major. There's another label for the best player to have never won on the PGA Tour, or the player with the most career earnings without a trophy.

Dufner was looking at the world ranking recently when he realized he was the only player in the top 50 who has never won on any tour.

Good or bad?

“A little bit of both,'' Dufner said Friday after a second straight bogey-free round of 5-under 66 gave him a two-shot lead in the Transitions Championship, another opportunity to no longer worry about that category.

“It's a good thing that I've played that well to be ranked that high without a victory,'' said Dufner, who is No. 39 in the world. “Because the victories really jump you up in the world rankings. Obviously, finishing second is going to jump you up a lot; it's almost like a win. You get a ton of points for that. It's a little disappointing that I have not won yet.''

He certainly has had his chances.

Dufner lost in two playoffs last year on the PGA Tour, to Mark Wilson at the Phoenix Open and more notably, to Keegan Bradley in the PGA Championship after Dufner made three bogeys down the stretch at Atlanta Athletic Club.

He is pointed in the right direction again at Innisbrook, at 10-under 132, with a little help from Padraig Harrington.

Harrington opened with a course-record 61 to build a three-shot lead, and there was a fleeting thought that another good round would allow the Irishman to separate himself from the pack. Those thoughts shifted to being a little too cautious with the lead, and understanding that hardly anyone backs up a record round with another low one.

It was the fourth time someone shot 61 on the PGA Tour this year. Robert Garrigus had the best score the following day, a 68 that gave him a chance at the Humana Challenge.

Harrington didn't play much differently than the first round, except for the putting.

It was a big difference.

He made a 75-foot birdie putt on Thursday. He missed a 15-inch par putt on Friday.

His troubles began with a weak attempt at a 15-foot birdie putt on the second hole, another tentative putt on the third, a 6-foot birdie putt on the fourth that missed badly on the low side. Two holes later, he missed the tap-in, and then three-putted the seventh.

Harrington wound up 12 shots worse – a 73 – and as he reflected on his round before going off for a drug test, he figured his score would have been OK if not for those three-putts toward the end of his round.

“I'm happy with my game, but when you shoot a good score, it's hard to match the next day,'' Harrington said. “When you're leading the tournament, it's hard not to be a little bit cautious, and I think at times I was on the greens.''

All was not lost, of course.

Harrington hasn't won since the Johor Open in October 2010, and he would have gladly taken his position at 8-under 134, in the final group on Saturday, at the start of the week.

“I didn't do too much damage today,'' Harrington said. “It wouldn't have been the end of the world if I didn't have those two three-putts. It could be OK. But the great thing his, having shot a good score yesterday, I felt that if I played the best golf on the weekend, I would be the winner. I'm still in good position.''

William McGirt had a 68 and joined Harrington at 8-under 134.

Luke Donald, who can return to No. 1 in the world with a win, had a 68 and was in the large group at 7-under 135 that included Puerto Rico winner George McNeill.

Dufner called it a stress-free round, which it was. He birdied all but one of the par 4s, and picked up two extra birdies with a 15-foot putt on the third and a 25-foot putt down the hill on the ninth. He never had to work hard for par.

Dufner is proud of getting through the Copperhead course without a bogey for two days. For a guy who tries to make golf simply by keeping the ball in front of him, it's all about limiting mistakes.

And while Harrington was cautious on the greens, Dufner scaled back on the aggression from the fairways whenever he felt he didn't have the right club for his yardage, allowing him to go at flags.

A perfect example was the par-3 13th, with the hole location at the front of the green. Dufner could have hit 7-iron at the flag, but a slight miss would have meant the ball in the water. He hit 6-iron to the middle of the green, two-putted from 30 feet for par and went on to the next hole.

“It's a bit of a mind game with me,'' he said. “I tend to be a little too aggressive at times and get myself in trouble. After last week, I kind of thought about it. If I felt comfortable or if I had a good number, I would play aggressive. But I think when I was a little bit uncomfortable or had a bad number with a club, I would try to find the fat of the green and maybe make a par from 30 feet.''

Jim Furyk, who won two years ago at Innisbrook, felt similar to Harrington. He was playing better than his score. He had to settle for a 70 on Friday and was in the group at 6-under 136, along with Sergio Garcia, John Senden and Kenny Perry, the only grandfather in the field at age 51.

Harrington also built some optimism for Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, both of whom are trying to qualify for the Masters. They were in the group just five shots behind. Goosen is just outside the top 50 in the world ranking, while Els would have to win at Innisbrook to get into the top 50 – and a win makes him eligible, anyway.

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