ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) - ‘Ordinary looking’ Jason Dufner struck a chord with club players everywhere while also underscoring the extraordinary depth in the modern game with his impressive victory at the PGA Championship on Sunday.
With his characteristic pre-swing waggle and an almost disinterested demeanor, the American does not fit the mould of a golfing superstar yet proved to be the best player on the planet at Oak Hill with a brilliant display of ball-striking.
Known for his unflappable and ultra-laidback persona, Dufner seized control of the tournament by firing a record-tying seven-under-par 63 in Friday’s second round, then came from a stroke back after 54 holes to claim his first major title by two shots.
Dufner, who plays golf with a wad of snuff inserted inside his lower lip, was ranked 21st in the world at the start of the week and had only two top-10s in 17 starts on the 2013 PGA Tour, though both came in big events with ties for fourth at the U.S. Open and also at the elite WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Undoubtedly his agonizing experience of losing the 2011 PGA Championship in a playoff to good friend Keegan Bradley, after letting slip a late five-stroke lead, helped him on Sunday but Dufner never felt he truly belonged in the select group of major winners until his breakthrough at Oak Hill Country Club.
“I don’t think you can ever claim to belong with a group of guys who have won majors until you’ve done it,” said Dufner, who secured his third career victory on the PGA Tour with a closing two-under-par 68 on a challenging East Course layout.
“So, it’s a great accomplishment. Hopefully it will propel me to some better things, some better golf, some more tournaments won, majors won, more Ryder Cups, more Presidents Cups.”
Asked how much he expected his life to change following his first major victory, Dufner replied with a typically dead-pan expression: “It’s definitely going to change my life, but I’m determined that it’s not going to change me.
“There are a lot of things that are going to come up tournament-wise, different tournaments I can play in, different opportunities that are going to come my way, and I’m going to have to deal with that. It’s going to be a difficult task.
“You hear a lot of guys talk about the demands of winning a major championship and what that brings. But I’ll have to take it step‑by‑step and day-by-day and go with it,” said Dufner, who plays his golf in an almost trance-like state.
On a glorious, sun-splashed afternoon at Oak Hill, Dufner delivered a superb display of ice-cool golf to become the 19th different winner in the last 21 majors, once again underlining the astonishing depth in strength in the modern game.
“You put the top 100 guys in a row on the range and watch them hit a ball, and you can’t really tell the difference,” said Rory McIlroy, the only double winner in the majors over the past five years, along with British Open champion Phil Mickelson.
“There’s so much depth in the game of golf right now. With technology and golf course setup, it’s very difficult for players to separate themselves from the rest of the field.”
On the eve of last week’s PGA Championship, reigning champion McIlroy felt almost anyone in the 156-draw was capable of claiming the title.
“You could look at any other sporting event, and you would have certain favorites,” he said. “Obviously in golf, there are a few certain favorites also, but anyone out of this field could win this tournament.
“That’s not the case in some other sports, and I think that’s something that’s quite appealing about golf.”
Editing by Frank Pingue