Dufner holds his nerve on final day to win his first major title
American clinches maiden major by two shots despite two bogeys in closing holes of USPGA
Jason Dufner holds up the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament . Photograph: Charlie Riedel
History finally embraced Jason Dufner in this 95th US PGA championship, where the 36-year-old American – he of the portly gut and laid-back attitude – shed his nearly-man tag. Two days after he left a putt for a historic 62 in the Majors short to miss out on that unique distinction, Dufner achieved the more important feat of claiming the Wanamaker Trophy with a cool, calm and collected final round that typified his persona.
On a wonderfully sunny day, near-perfect for golf, Dufner – who lost a playoff for this title to Keegan Bradley in Atlanta in 2011 – fired a finishing 68 for 270, 10-under-par, that ultimately gave him a two shot winning margin over Jim Furyk. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, continuing his impressive recent form, finished alone in third on 273.
The posturing may have been something to behold as Dufner, the king of waggling, and Furyk, who persisted on backing off every putt, assumed the major roles in the drama which unfolded. But, throughout, Dufner – who started out a shot behind Furyk – was the man in control: his driving was accurate, his iron approach-play sublime. Two back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth allowed him in turn to join Furyk atop the leaderboard and then to move clear.
Dufner – who went bogey free from the eighth hole of his third round until the 17th hole of yesterday’s final round, a run of 27 bogey-free holes – held a two stroke lead at the turn and then reeled off six successive pars before hitting his approach stiff on the 16th to retain a two shot lead over Furyk.
That bogey on the 17th was matched by one of his own from Furyk. And, if the play of the 18th from both players in the final group saw them go from rough to greenside rough in again running up matching bogeys, it didn’t really matter for Dufner: the cushion was enough.
He became the 18th different first-time winner of the last 20 Majors. Others had found trouble when seeking to contend. Stenson, for instance, was cruelly undone by his tee-shot on the 14th finishing up in a divot from where he plonked his next into a greenside bunker. There and then, his quest to become the first Swedish winner was undone.
Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, closed out with a 70 for 277, three-under, which left him in tied-eighth. The 24-year-old Ulsterman’s attempt to make a fast start was scuppered by a triple-bogey seven on the fifth, where his approach hit the green but cruelly spun back down the slope to finish on rocks in the water hazard.
“I didn’t make many bad shots out there today. I made a big number on five but that wasn’t really . . . I hit a good shot and did exactly what I wanted to do with it but it pitched in the exact wrong place.”
Graeme McDowell’s finishing round of 66 lifted him 22 spots up the leaderboard to put him on 278, in tied-12th. McDowell went on a remarkable run on the front nine, a long putt on the fourth providing the spark for a run of five successive birdies. He hit his approach to within inches of the fifth and sixth, holed from 20 feet on the seventh and hit it stiff again on the eighth. Unfortunately, his great run was halted with a bogey off a poor drive on the ninth.
“That’s the way this course is. If you do hit it in the fairway, if you do hit good (approach) shots, you can really make a lot of birdies. But if you do hit it offline, this golf course is really penal,” admitted McDowell, who produced a closing round 66 for 278, two-under, which gave him a top-15 finish and improved his FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai standings.
Having endured missed cuts at the Masters and the US Open, and a lowly tied-58th finish in the recent British Open, McDowell – a winner of three regular tour events this season – was happy to finally get something out of his Majors season, although admitting it was hard to peak.
As he put it, “It’s very difficult to have your game exacted for these weeks, you know. It’s hard to peak. It’s hard to be ready. I look at the Masters, I missed there and I win the week after (won the Heritage). You know, missed the cut at US Open and win a couple of weeks there at the French Open. It’s a hard game. It’s hard to get it right on the day. The Major championships are the toughest test in golf, as we know.”