Dufner ties Major record with 63 to move into pole position
US open champion Rose fires a 66 to move right into contention at Oak Hill
Jason Dufner hits from the fairway on the 14th hole during the second round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. Photograph: AP
You really don’t know these days, do you? When the US Open visited Merion in June, the expectation was that the course would be devoured. It wasn’t. Here, for the 95th edition of the US PGA championship, the belief was that the course would devour the players. It hasn’t. Instead, aided by rainfall which has had the effect of widening fairways and softening greens, those in pursuit of the Wanamaker Trophy have - for the most part - enjoyed a birdie fest.
As Adam Scott and Justin Rose, two of those who have already savoured Major glory this year, threw their hats into the ring with greedy intent, the East Course - which has earned a reputation over the years as one of championship golf’s hardest taskmasters - was transformed into a beautifully manicured arena for target golf as the world’s best players took aim at the pins.
On a day which started with heavy rain that necessitated severe warning warnings to be posted to the leaderboards scattered around the tree-lined course, but thankfully with no need for any suspension of play, the skies cleared in the afternoon to allow those later starters to at least enjoy the occasion.
For those who had laboured through the downpours, there was only the solace that the rain gear, and their attentive caddies, had enabled them to weather the storm.
Yet, even amidst the deluge, players managed to score. Webb Simpson, for one, could do no wrong. The 2011 US Open champion shot a 64 that equalled the course record. “All I saw in front of us today was Webb picking his ball up out of the hole. He seemed to make everything,” said Rory McIlroy, who himself only discovered the art of birdie-making over his final seven holes which he covered in four-under to rescue his round and stay in the championship. McIlroy shot a 71, to reach the mid-point on the 140, level par, mark.
Simpson’s 64 propelled him up the leaderboard. At one point of his first round on Thursday, Simpson was five-over through eight holes before turning things around. Yesterday was one of those days when he could do no wrong, until missing a couple of birdie chances late on when it looked likely he would match the feat of joining those 23 players with recorded rounds of 63 in Major history, last accomplished by Steve Stricker in the 2011 US PGA at Atlanta.
There were other examples of stellar play in this final Major of the year: Rose, for his part, covered his back nine (which happened to be the front nine) in 29 shots, whilst Sweden’s Peter Hanson required just 30 strokes for the back nine.
Scott didn’t match his wonderful form of the first round, when he had a sequence of five straight birdies at one point, but still shot a second round 68 for 133, seven-under-par, that gave him the clubhouse lead until Jason Dufner, the most laid-back player on tour, found the energy in the afternoon’s second wave to move past him.
In an extraordinary round that carved him a place in the history books, Dufner - one those seeking a maiden Major - covered the front nine in 31 strokes and added further birdies on the 11th, 13th and 16th to move to nine-under-par and claim the outright lead.
In Scott’s case, Tiger Woods’s decision to part ways with Steve Williams has proven to be a blessing. Since the Aussie has had the Kiwi by his side, he has become a better player. He has peaked for the Majors, which is what it is really all bout for these professionals who chase the dream. And his desire has been sharpened, not lessened, by annexing the US Masters back in April.
As Scott put it, “I think the platform has never been better for me to go on and win multiple Majors. I guess you’ve got to take the confidence and form of winning a Major and run with it. I’ve sat in front of you guys and told you that these are going to be my best years, and generally they are for any golfer. But I’m doing everything I can to make sure that they are, and you know, I can’t take my foot off the gas just because I achieved something great at Augusta.”
Regardless of who would be looking back over his shoulder at those in pursuit over the weekend, Scott felt there was only one way to approach it. “You just have to be tough, tough on yourself and grind it out no matter how it’s going (because) guys who start way back can free-wheel it and they are always the danger man.”
McIlroy, staring back-to-back missed cuts in the Majors in the face, showed his fighting qualities in defence of his title with those birdies on his back nine to make the cut on 140 and face into the weekend as one those dangermen chasers.
So too, Shane Lowry. The Offalyman shot a second round 70 for 141 which gave him a target to aim for in the second part of this examination that has proven less formidable than anyone could have anticipated. But all the more interesting for that.