- Farrell Evans, Golf
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ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Webb Simpson's caddie, Paul Tesori, often tells his boss that he should shoot more low numbers. On Friday morning, Simpson answered his employee's plea in the second round of the PGA Championship with a 6-under 64 that tied the course record on the East Course at Oak Hill. But Simpson's early charge through the rain-softened par-70 course turned out to be just the opening act for Jason Dufner's record-tying 63 in the afternoon.
Dufner, the 36-year-old two-time tour winner who lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley in the 2011 PGA Championship, now shares the all-time low round in a major with 23 other players. On Friday, Dufner and Simpson put on show that will ultimately go down as a preview to a weekend that promises drama, surprise and an abundance of birdies.
It will be a race to the finish for the leaders. Instead of the last man standing after surviving a brutal test, he will be one who successfully answered the call to shoot a low number.
"It seems like a lot of guys are posting some good scores, so if conditions stay the same, I'm sure guys will be gunning for whoever might be leading," Dufner said Friday evening. "So I think it's important to stay aggressive and pick your spots maybe later in the tournament toward those late nine holes."
The word "aggressive" has been missing from players' mouths in the last couple of majors, where difficult conditions at Merion and Muirfield made birdies scarce.
Tiger Woods, who is at 1-over for the tournament after an even-par 70 on Friday, is 10 shots behind Dufner. The 14-time major champion is usually optimistic about his chances, regardless of the odds, but seemed almost resigned to the fact that it's going to be difficult to keep pace with the leaders.
"I'm so far back that if the leaders go ahead and run off with it and shoot a low one tomorrow, I'm going to be pretty far behind," Woods said. "I've got to do my job tomorrow and go out there and post something in the mid-to-low 60s, like some of the guys did today. It definitely can be done."
Wouldn't it be great to see Woods give himself a chance to end a five-year drought at the majors with a near-record low round on Saturday?
Tiger will have that opportunity over the next two rounds, but so will many other players. The accessibility of the East Course at Oak Hill is allowing the best players in the world to shine.
"You are never surprised when conditions are good; great players find a way," said Jim Furyk, who is at 7-under for the championship after a 68 in his second round. "Someone finds a way to shoot a low number."
A 63 is very uncommon in a major championship. So when there is a chance for it to happen, everyone roots for it. Dufner held the attention of fans and players.
Perhaps the PGA of America had hoped that Oak Hill would play firmer and faster, but the rain-softened conditions have made these players thirsty for birdies and less daunted by the circumstances.
Adam Scott, who began Friday with a share of the first-round lead with Furyk, continued his good play with a 68 in the second round. With nine top-25 finishes in his last 11 majors, it's no surprise he is 7-under and two shots back of Dufner's lead.
"I was hungry before the Masters and I might even have a bigger appetite after it, and it might be greedy, but I feel like this is my time to get everything I want out of my career, and I'm going to keep pushing until I do," the 33-year-old Masters champion said.
The PGA of America could try to toughen up the course over the weekend with tricky pin positions and hope for drier conditions that will make the course faster.
But the more birdies the better. A weekend that delivers record-breaking low scores will supply the kind of excitement the majors deserve.
On Friday, after his 64, Simpson admitted that he wrestled with the setting of this being a major championship golf course and his quest to shoot 63.
"You want to go for the record," he said. "But you can't do that on a golf course this hard. I was trying to be patient and conservative.
"So it's that balance of how much do you go for it and how much do you continue to do what you're doing."
If the former U.S. Open champion, who is 5 shots back of Dufner, wants to win his second major title, he is going to have to lay aside the weight of the moment and just go for it.
For the race this weekend at Oak Hill will be given to the swift and to the strong, the one who makes the most birdies, not to the one who simply endures the best until the end.