On another serene summer day in Rochester, Jason Dufner assumed the now familiar mantle of first time Major winners, keeping a steady hand through the final stretch. Dufner protected a two-stroke lead over Jim Furyk to finally get his hands on the Wanamaker Trophy.
Dufner’s effort must have helped him exorcise the ghosts of 2011, when he bogeyed three in a row to fall into a play-off, which he lost against Keegan Bradley, another first time winner. Dufner made a short bogey putt at the 18th this time to clinch a two-stroke victory over Furyk.
The American celebrated his victory at the PGA Championship in typically understated style, clenching his half raised fists just over his shoulder before sinking into the arms of his wife Amanda.
In winning the 95th PGA Championship, Dufner became the 15th first-time winner in the past 21 Major events in golf. His final day effort typified Dufner’s unhurried style as he marched ahead quietly, aided by an array of par putts punctuated by an odd birdie. Dufner was a stroke adrift from Furyk, but a birdie from eight feet at the fourth helped him take a share of the lead.
The knife turned on Furyk at the mid-way point. He made a costly bogey on the ninth even as Dufner saved par to take a two-stroke lead over his playing partner. The gap remained to the end – the pair ended the day with back-to-back bogeys, meaning Dufner did not have to deal with any additional pressure toward the end.
“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” said Dufner. “To come back from a couple of years ago in this championship when I lost to Keegan in the play-off, to win feels really, really good. The last two holes were a little unfortunate. I wish I could’ve closed out with no bogeys but I am happy to get the job done. It’s a big step for my career.”
For the second year running, Furyk squandered a share of the lead on the final day at the PGA. The usually unflappable Furyk found the going tough, and even though he survived a difficult round with a one over 71, it was never going to be enough against Dufner, who was steady in equal measure with both his driver and putter.
“I do wish I could have turned up the heat on him a little,” Furyk said. “I wanted to do that but just couldn’t get the ball where I wanted it. There have been other times when the tournament slipped through my fingers,” he added. “But I have no regrets this time. I played my heart out.”
Working at an unfamiliar time, Tiger Woods signed off in the clubhouse more than half an hour before the final group even got to the first tee to prolong his drought at the Majors to 18. His last victory came at the 2008 US Open and it shall be 70 months since winning one, when he tees off at Augusta next year. Woods finished tied for 40th at four over for the week, another even par 70 meant that the American had only once broken 70 in sixteen rounds at the majors this year.
“Well, I put four good rounds together last week, unfortunately it wasn’t this week,” said Woods, reminding the press of his seven-stroke runaway triumph at the World Golf Championships. “Didn’t seem to hit it as good and didn’t make many putts until the last few holes today. But I didn’t give myself many looks and certainly didn’t hit the ball good enough to be in it.”
Rory McIlroy hasn’t had much to cheer since changing to the Nike equipment earlier this year, but the PGA finally gave him some reason for hope. After looking like he was going to miss the cut here, just as he did at the Open, the Irishman turned it around fighting his way back into the top ten of a Major for the first time this season. A wet triple bogey at the fifth cost McIlroy dearly, but he salvaged his losses with back-to-back birdies at the turn before adding another at the 13th.
Henrik Stenson and Jason Blixt arrived into Sunday with a chance at becoming the first Swedes to win the PGA title. But neither man could discover the magic needed to turn out a winning performance, both scoring an even par round that was only good enough to protect turf.
The most dramatic round of the day came from an unheralded corner. Scott Piercy surprised everyone, including himself, nailing eight birdies in a round of 65 that lofted him into the top ten for the first time in his career.
Masters champ, Adam Scott locked an eleventh top ten finish in a Major with an even par round of 70. “It was a mixed bag, just a sloppy finish unfortunately. Hit a few poor drivers coming in and made it hard to make par,” said a disappointed Scott.
The week eventually belonged to the people’s champion, a 36-year-old hunchback with an endearing paunch and a lazy stupor to go with it. Dufner became the 18th different Major winner in the past 20 events.
-10: J Dufner (US)-8: J Furyk (US)-7: H Stenson (Swe)-6: J Blixt (Swe)-5 : A Scott (Aus), S Piercy (US)
-3: R McIlroy (NI)+3: L Westwood (Eng)+4: T Woods (US)+12: P Mickelson (US)