Jason Dufner reflects positively on loss
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- There's little one can say, really. The crowd chanting, the sun setting, the million thoughts that go through your mind while trying to process the pain. Amanda Boyd had few words at this moment, and could you blame her?
Jason Dufner, her fiancé, was making his way from the 18th green at Atlanta Athletic Club to the unknown world of almost major champion. It is a large group, one filled with players who had their nearly-moment, only to slink back into obscurity.
What fate awaits Dufner after his playoff loss to Keegan Bradley on Sunday at the 93rd PGA Championship is, of course, unknown, but as he embraced Boyd and walked toward his future, the hurt oozed, even as fans cheered his name and congratulated him on a job well done, despite blowing a 5-shot lead with four holes to play.
And then Boyd put it in perspective, and perhaps unknowingly shed some light on why it is so hard to capture major championships, to win on the PGA Tour, period.
"He's just happy to be here, really," Boyd said. "Now he has next year. He's always worried about keeping his card and having next year locked up. He's got his schedule set for next year. He's got a lot of pressure taken off him. Maybe he'll win one of the playoff events. You never know."
Perhaps that is the best way for a guy who has never won to look at the situation. He's opened up doors of opportunity, despite the defeat. He's playing well, and through 68 holes of one of the world's biggest tournaments, he was in control.
Then Dufner, 34, made three straight bogeys, and everything changed. Yes, Bradley made two birdies just ahead of him, but Bradley is not holding the Wanamaker Trophy if Dufner isn't rinsing one at the par-3 15th, hitting his worst iron shot at the par-4 16th or three-jacking the par-3 17th.
As the famous author and longtime golf writer Dan Jenkins put it on Twitter: "Where does Dufner's collapse rank? Somewhere between [Jean] Van de Velde at Carnoustie in '99 and Ed Sneed at Augusta in '79."
The Frenchman Van de Velde blew a 3-stroke lead on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open, making a triple-bogey 7 at the 18th to drop into a playoff that he lost to Paul Lawrie.
Sneed had a 3-stroke lead with three holes to play at the 1979 Masters and made three straight bogeys to fall into a playoff won in sudden death by Fuzzy Zoeller.
Neither player did much afterward, their major moments remembered for how they let one get away.
Will Dufner face the same fate?
"I'm not a history buff as far as golf goes," said Dufner, who walked on to the Auburn golf team and still lives in the Alabama town. "I know the media tries to define careers on certain players, you did this and you didn't do this; I'm not into that. I just play golf. I love playing golf. I love the competition. And I want to be as good as I can be. If that's 20th in the world with no majors, or first in the world with 10 majors, or never to win a tour event, I'll be fine with it."
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And yet, Dufner was oh-so close to making his first PGA Tour win a major championship.
After Bradley had made a mess of the 15th in front of him, posting a triple-bogey 6, the tournament sure seemed over. Dufner had a 5-shot lead, and even with all the work that lurked, surely a guy who had played the four finishing holes in 3 under for the week would navigate his way home.
Even after he hit his tee shot in the water at 15, Dufner got up and down for bogey and still had a 3-shot lead.
"When he made that awesome bogey at 15, I thought he had it locked, in the bag," Boyd said.
But up ahead, Keegan had birdied the 16th, and the lead was now down to 3 strokes.
"I'm more disappointed about 16 and 17 than 15," Dufner said.
After a perfect drive, Dufner mis-clubbed, hitting a 4-iron instead of a 5-iron from 212 yards. "I eased off of it, lost it to the right into that bunker, which is not a good up-and-down," he said. "Probably the worst iron shot of the week. Just happens.
"I hate that it happened on the 69th hole of a major. Would have been a lot better if it was the third hole of a major."
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Then Dufner watched Bradley roll in a long birdie putt in front of him at the 17th, where Dufner three-putted for a bogey that meant a tie. He had seen his 5-shot advantage evaporate in three holes.
A good two-putt par at the 18th meant a playoff, but Bradley was clearly in the better mental position at this point. He had made two exhilarating birdies to put him in position; Dufner had made those three bogeys.
And they'd be going right back to the cauldron, the 16th, 17th and 18th for the playoff. And that's when Dufner's putter let him down. He stiffed his approach at the 16th -- as did Bradley -- but missed the birdie putt while Bradley made. And then he again three-putted the 17th to fall two behind, his birdie at the 18th not enough.
So Dufner left Atlanta with $865,000, a bunch of FedEx Cup points along with a high ranking in the standings and a place in all of the major championships next year.
But no trophy.
"Coming from where I came from, to be in this position, it's a dream come true," said Dufner, who didn't take up the game until he was 15. "I could never have imagined playing in major championships, playing with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods; that's a milestone to me itself.
"I'm not going to let this define my career."
And yet, for now, it does.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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2011 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
2011 champion: Keegan Bradley
Course: Atlanta Athletic Club
Where: Johns Creek, Ga.
Yardage, par: 7,467 yards, par-70
Past PGA champions: Complete list