PITTSFORD, N.Y. — There was a lot of debate at the PGA Championship about whether it was better to sleep on a lead or come from behind. Jason Dufner did a little of each this week at Oak Hill in his deceptively dozy, heavy-lidded way. He was the chased, then the chaser and finally the champion. Have you ever seen a sleepier, more relaxed dude win a major championship?
Dufner, 36, looked like a surfer gone to seed with that slack belly, wild hair strawing out from under his cap and soul patch on his lip, which had a tendency to be filled with snuff. “For me, golf is a little more boring,” he says. But underneath the facade, what a come lately striver and what a loose, sweet swing. All he did at Oak Hill was decimate a timeless, classic course with a second-round 63 that tied the lowest round ever shot in a major and then seize the title away from the well-established Jim Furyk with a final round 68 in which he treated the greens like bull’s-eyes.
Dufner was the direct opposite in style to the 43-year-old Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion who looked like a prim weekend gardener by comparison in his charcoal slacks, white-soled sneaker-spikes and baggy shirt. The final round was essentially match play between them, a pruner against a dipper, Dufner the challenger and Furyk the leader who started the day with a one-stroke margin and announced he preferred playing from in front.
Furyk claimed to like his position despite the fact he had dramatic collapses last year in the U.S. Open, the Ryder Cup and the Bridgestone. “People always ask, ‘Would you rather be one ahead or one back?’ ” Furyk said Saturday night. “Well, I’d rather be one ahead. There’s going to be a winning score tomorrow, and whatever that score is, it means I don’t have to shoot as low as everyone else, if that makes sense. But overall, I’m comfortable with where I’m at.”
But perhaps Furyk should have put in a call to Jack Nicklaus, who came from behind to win eight of his 18 majors and who understood that protecting a lead in a Grand Slam event was a more difficult mental and emotional proposition than stalking it. “I’d rather be two strokes ahead going into the last day than two strokes behind, but having said that, it’s probably easier to win coming from behind,” Nicklaus once told Golf Digest. “There is no fear in chasing. There is fear in being chased.”
By no means did Furyk collapse or show fear in this PGA; his 1-over-par 71 was an essay in solid course management. But comfortable and solid weren’t good enough against a player with Dufner’s ability to make a steel golf club look as delicate as a piece of ribbon. When the reversal came on the golf course, as it almost inevitably does to leaders of majors, Furyk found himself unable to counter against a player with momentum and a cool temperament. Furyk maintained his one-stroke lead through exactly three holes. Then Dufner birdied three of the next five, cutting gorgeous irons at the flagsticks to near-gimme distances. When Furyk bogeyed the ninth from the greenside rough, Dufner was the leader by two at 11 under.