ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) - American Jason Dufner erased memories of his stunning late collapse two years ago when he clinched his first major title by two shots in the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on Sunday.
One stroke behind playing partner Jim Furyk overnight, the ultra-laidback Dufner produced some scintillating approach play on the way to a two-under-par 68 and a 10-under total of 268 on the challenging East Course.
The 36-year-old Dufner seized control with three birdies on the front nine and shut the door on his rivals with a steely display of safety-first golf over the difficult closing stretch.
A stunning approach to a foot at the par-four 16th earned him his fourth birdie of the day and he could afford the luxury of bogeys at 17 and 18, two of the toughest holes on the course, as he secured his third victory on the PGA Tour.
After putting out on the 18th green, Dufner retrieved his ball from the hole before lifting both arms waist-high in celebration with his eyes closed.
He was warmly embraced by his wife Amanda just off the green, followed by his good friend Keegan Bradley, the 2011 champion.
Dufner had lost out in a playoff to Bradley for that title at Atlanta Athletic Club where he had led by five strokes in regulation while playing the fourth-last hole.
“It’s been a tough day, a long day,” Dufner said after being presented with the coveted Wanamaker Trophy which he hoisted high before kissing it.
“It’s a tough golf course and it probably hasn’t hit me yet. To come back from a couple of years ago in this championship when I lost to Keegan in the playoff, to win feels really, really good.
“The last two holes were a little unfortunate. I wish I could’ve closed out with no bogeys but I am happy to get the job done. It’s a big step for my career.”
Former U.S. Open champion Furyk, bidding at the age of 43 to win his first major crown in a decade, signed off with a 71 to finish alone in second place after struggling off the tee for much of a sun-splashed afternoon.
Henrik Stenson, aiming to become the first Swedish man to land one of golf’s elite titles, closed with a 70 and a seven-under tally, one stroke better than compatriot Jonas Blixt (70).
Tiger Woods, seeking to end a five-year title drought at the majors, ended a forgettable week at Oak Hill with a 70 to finish halfway down the leaderboard at four-over 284.
The year’s final major shaped up as a two-horse race for much of a warm, sunny afternoon at Oak Hill as Dufner and Furyk dueled for the lead.
Dufner drew level at the top when sank a five-foot birdie putt at the par-five fourth, then briefly claimed the outright lead after hitting a brilliant approach that spun back to two feet at the tricky par-four fifth to set up a tap-in birdie.
However, Furyk immediately rejoined Dufner at the top when he drained a slick, 35-footer to birdie the par-three sixth and both players parred the seventh, despite ending up in the left rough.
Dufner then countered with another brilliant approach, this time a sand wedge to a foot at the par-four eighth, to reclaim the outright lead at 11 under.
While Furyk bogeyed the ninth after missing the green to the right with his approach and hitting a poor chip to 15 feet, Dufner sank a clutch eight-footer to salvage par after ending up in rough off the tee and take a two-shot lead into the back nine.
Dufner missed a series of birdie putts from 10-foot range and just beyond early on the back nine as he continued to hit greens in regulation before he and Furyk each birdied the 16th.
As the shadows lengthened on a glorious, sun-splashed evening at Oak Hill, Dufner maintained his two-shot cushion as he and Furyk both finished bogey-bogey.
Editing by Frank Pingue