Jason Dufner chases DFW history
Sizzling golfer can join Ben Hogan with sweep, but Zach Johnson stands in way
FORT WORTH, Texas -- If only Mr. Hogan were here to see this.
With the Fort Worth legend listed as one of his golf heroes, the suddenly indomitable Jason Dufner sits 18 holes away from completing a DFW double that -- as unfathomable as it may seem -- has been accomplished only once, and that was 66 years ago.
Dufner handled the first part last week with a 1-stroke victory at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
"That is a little bit crazy that somebody hasn't won both of these events back-to-back," Dufner said following his 4-under-par 66 Saturday to move to 15 under, good enough for a tenuous 1-stroke lead over Zach Johnson. "It's pretty difficult to win back-to-back events out on the PGA Tour, but you would think in the history of playing in these two tournaments that somebody might have done it."
The Nelson was Dufner's second win in his past three Tour starts on what has become a remarkable run for a 35-year-old golfer who's hardly been a household name yet leads the FedEx Cup points leaderboard.
"Making up for lost time," he murmured in his low and slow drawl in Colonial's interview room after Saturday's warm, humid and windy round.
To complete the historic double that would go down in Texas golf lore, Dufner will have to outduel an unflappable golfer. Johnson exchanged punches with Dufner on Saturday, tying him twice, then falling back 3 shots before missing a tying putt by less than a quarter-inch on the 18th hole in this 66th Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
Saturday's playing partners, who have buried the competition to make this a two-horse race, will go at it again Sunday with a 12:55 CT tee time.
"I've played with Duff enough and obviously I've seen what he's done," Johnson said following his 5-under 65. "I didn't play New Orleans [site of Dufner's first win] and I didn't play last week in Dallas, but I've seen what he's been doing and he did that again [Saturday], so I don't foresee that changing. I hope he's getting tired, but that's not my concern."
Topping out at 16 under after a birdie and a par on Nos. 13 and 14, Dufner seemed to be in total control of Hogan's Alley. He's targeting not only his third win in four starts but also Johnson's 2010 Colonial course record of 21 under. But a couple bogeys on the final five holes combined with two Johnson birdies tightened things up.
The tournament record remains a possibility, but it's ultimately a Sunday victory and a rare seat next to Hogan that has Dufner's full attention.
"Any time to be mentioned in the same name as Mr. Hogan it's just a unique experience for me," Dufner said. "I've followed him a good bit, I've read as much as I could about him, I've studied his golf swing; anything that I could get my hands on that was associated with Mr. Hogan I tried to study or learn about.
Dufner's string of successes can be called a culmination of years of hard work and struggles and near misses and never-ending refinement. But there was little to predict such a bold run now.
Before the 2012 season, the Auburn grad possessed not a single career victory. He had just three runner-up finishes, two in 2011, and two third-place finishes with one coming last year.
Even before he captured the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April, the year was not going especially great. His best finish among his previous seven starts was a tie for 10th
Among two 24th-place finishes was another major disappointment, this time at the Masters, where he was the 36-hole co-leader. But dreams of the green jacket fizzled with consecutive weekend rounds of 75. That downturn only reminded golf fans of Dufner's 2011 PGA Championship slide, when his 4-stroke lead with four holes to go went down the drain.
Now here he is one round from being fitted for Colonial's plaid jacket, which Hogan was first to wear in 1953 upon his fourth of five career victories on this venerable old course. Dufner has beaten back 30 mph winds, 90-degree heat and stifling humidity and, of course, the field, one perhaps not as top-heavy as in Hogan's days here or as fearsome as some in recent years.
Still, there's no denying the consistent dominance Dufner is delivering as he bears down on a third Tour victory in a month.
Last week's win on the east side of the Metroplex netted Dufner $1.17 million and moved him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings. Another $1.15 million is on the line as he heads into Sunday's final round. The DFW double would push Dufner over the $4 million mark in earnings for the year, plenty to pay off the diamond he planted on his new bride, Amanda, who has been by his side for every round these past two weeks.
“The couple married May 5, the week after he won in New Orleans and two weeks shy of his triumph at the Nelson that set up this unlikely shot at Texas golf history.
It's pretty difficult to win back-to-back events out on the PGA Tour, but you would think in the history of playing in these two tournaments that somebody might have done it.” -- Colonial leader and Byron Nelson winner Jason Dufner
It's been quite a run, one that has left even his fellow golfers, his competitors, wide-eyed and rooting him on.
Still, 18 holes remain, as does a threat in Johnson that isn't going away.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence and things are going his way," said Jim Furyk, tied for seventh but 11 shots behind Dufner. "I hope he rides it out. I've never been on a run that good. I've had chances, but I've never gone back-to-back."
Surely Mr. Hogan would approve.