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Jason Dufner calmly makes history at PGA

The seemingly emotionless Dufner equals major record with a 63 at Oak Hills and takes a two-shot lead at halfway point.

August 09, 2013|By K.C. Johnson
  • Jason Dufner waits on the 18th green Friday during the second round of the PGA Championship before attempting a birdie putt that could have given him a major record for a round at 62. He two-putted for a 63.
Jason Dufner waits on the 18th green Friday during the second round of the… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Sprinkler heads can show more emotion than Jason Dufner on a golf course.

On Friday at Oak Hill Country Club, Dufner plodded around as he usually does, offering little evidence his pulse was working, even when his swing and putter were in historic fashion.

On a windless day when morning rain gave way to afternoon sunshine, Dufner took advantage of prime scoring conditions to shoot a seven-under-par 63 in the second round of the PGA Championship. That broke by one his idol Ben Hogan's course record, set in 1942 and matched by Curtis Strange in 1989 and Webb Simpson on Friday, and it tied the lowest round ever in a major, last shot by Steve Stricker at the 2011 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club.

That's the same tournament Dufner lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley after coughing up a five-shot lead with four holes to play. Perhaps that's why his nine-under total and two-stroke lead over Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk made him just as happy.

We think.

"I'm probably like everybody else, but I can hide it a little better," Dufner said after his round of five birdies and an eagle. Friday "was a bit unusual just because of the buzz that was going on with the round I was producing. ... But in my head, I was just trying to get further and further away from the field."

Dufner accomplished that, even if he narrowly missed his golden chance at outright history. Knocking his approach on the difficult, 493-yard, par-four 18th to 12 feet, Dufner left his birdie putt short. His tap-in for par didn't fall with much authority, either, perhaps a sign of the moment's magnitude.

Dufner burned the edge with his birdie putt on the day's toughest hole, the par-four 17th, mouthing, "Wow," as the putt slid past.

But that's nitpicking on a round in which Dufner spun back a sand wedge from 105 yards to eagle the second hole and drew recognition from all corners, including congratulations on Twitter from Hall of Famer Gary Player.

"To join history in a major is pretty unbelievable," Dufner said.

Like Dufner and first-round co-leader Furyk, Kuchar played in the afternoon sun after steady rain pestered Scott and others all morning. Call it Soak Hill.

Still, not to record his first bogey of the tournament until No. 18 on Friday is testament to Kuchar's consistency.

"I'm playing some great golf," he said.

He also saw some. Playing in the group behind Dufner, Kuchar bolstered his reputation as one of the PGA Tour's good guys — he has been called "The Smiling Assassin" — by actually watching Dufner's approach and putt on No. 18, hoping for history.

"I know it would have put him an extra shot ahead, but it would have been pretty cool to see the lowest round ever in a major championship," Kuchar said. "It's kind of too bad that he missed it."

Dufner's round marked the 26th time a golfer has shot 63 in a major. Greg Norman and Vijay Singh did it twice.

With nearly perfect conditions forecast for the weekend, perhaps another run at a 62 by somebody is in order. After all, previous major winners Scott and Furyk stayed in contention with two-under 68s. That Scott fared well while playing half his round in the rain made it even more impressive.

"I was hungry before winning the Masters, and I might even have a bigger appetite after it," Scott said. "And it might be greedy, but I feel like this is my time to get everything I want out of my career."

Plenty of big names stand in his way. Dufner's cult fan club made it clear what it wanted, repeatedly chanting his name near the practice putting green after he signed his card.

"I'm still trying to learn from mistakes I made in prior majors, still trying to chase it," Dufner said. "I'm excited I'm in the lead."

He hides it well.

kcjohnson@tribune.com

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