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PGA Championship: Furyk, Dufner in tight battle atop PGA leaderboard

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PITTSFORD — Jim Furyk and Jason Dufner have both known disappointment while leading major tournaments in recent years.

And that’s probably why both are not taking playing in the final pairing of today’s final round of the 95th PGA Championship so seriously.

Furyk, the first-day co-leader at Oak Hill Country Club, overcame a poor start Saturday to fire a 2-under-par 68 and assume a one-shot lead over Dufner at 9-under-par as they begin the final 18 holes today.

After torching Oak Hill for a course-record 7-under-par 63 on Friday, Dufner couldn’t come close to that, but he hung in there, finishing with a 1-over-par 71 for a 54-hole total of 202.

“Hopefully, it’s a fun day and we both play well,’’ said Furyk, a teammate on the Ryder Cup with Dufner, who led last year’s U.S. Open with five holes to play at Olympic Club in San Francisco before faltering down the stretch and losing to Webb Simpson.

“Jason and I are both pretty low-key guys, and we don’t get too excited whether we’re playing well or poorly,’’ Furyk added.

Dufner had a great chance to capture the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club before he squandered as much as a four-shot lead on the back nine and eventually lost to Keegan Bradley in a playoff.

“That was really my first time in contention in a major, and I don’t think I knew how to handle it,’’ said Dufner, who overcame a double-bogey 6 on the fifth hole Saturday to play 1-under-par golf the final 12 holes. “I think I learned to be a lot more patient and to just take one shot at a time. Today, after that bad fifth hole, I could have just gone off and made a lot of bogeys. But I kept my composure and was able to stabilize my round pretty well.’’

Henrik Stenson, one of the hottest players in the world the past few months, lurks just two shots behind at 7-under-par after a 1-under-par 69. He has finished second in both the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in his past two starts.

Jonas Blixt stands at 6-under par, while Masters champion Adam Scott and veteran Steve Stricker are at 5-under-par, four shots behind Furyk.

With the wind swirling, and the fairways and greens drying out a bit, the course played much tougher than the first two days.

Even defending champion Rory McIlroy played his way back into contention with so many of the leaders faltering. He provided a fantastic finish with two closing birdies for a 3-under-par 67, joining Lee Westwood six shots out of the lead at 3-under-par.

Long-hitting Dustin Johnson led a group at 2-under-par with an early-morning 65, the day’s low round.

Pre-tournament favorites Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who both began the day at 1-over-par and 10 shots out of the lead, both played themselves out of contention.

Woods shot a 73 and stands 4-over, while Mickelson recorded the second-worst round of the day (78), and stands next to last in the 75-man field that made the cut.

Furyk was quite shaky over his first four holes, hitting a fat iron on No. 1 and making bogey on 2 and 3 with what he termed “pretty loose shots. But I didn’t let those bother me or get me down. I made four birdies (4, 8, 10, 12) the next nine holes to kind of right the ship. That was key.’’

A 230-yard hybrid and a 20-foot birdie putt on 17 gave him the outright lead, and then he made a clutch 12-foot par-saving putt on 18 to close his day in fine fashion.

“I don’t believe that momentum means a lot because there are so many good players that can still win,’’ Furyk said. “But it is always better to be leading because you don’t have to make up that one or two shots you’re behind.’’

In Dufner’s case, trying to duplicate Friday’s round was almost impossible.

“I actually hit the ball similarly, but the course played maybe two shots tougher. And my putting wasn’t nearly as good (he had 26 putts Friday, 33 Saturday).’’

A 3-wood into the left hazard on five, leading to a double bogey, was one of his few poor shots. But he answered with a nice birdie 3 on 7 and another on 10, then finished with eight consecutive pars.

He also snuck in a lengthy par putt in the back door on 18 to remain just a shot behind.

“You don’t have to play perfectly in the final round because everybody makes mistakes,’’ Dufner said. “If you stay patient, you’re never really out of it.’’

Stenson, who was playing in his own club championship back in Sweden two years ago during this tournament after a miserable couple of years, said golf is again fun for him.

“Being back in the mix and playing well makes all the time and effort I put into my game worthwhile,’’ said Stenson, who recorded three birdies and two bogeys. “But you never want to get ahead of yourself. There’s still 18 tough holes to play against a great field. I’m happy to be where I am, but there’s still a lot of work remaining.’’

McIlroy, who has two top three finishes besides his win in four previous PGA appearances, has now played his last 25 holes in 7-under-par, with just one bogey.

He recorded four birdies, including impressive 3s on the two hardest holes, 17 — where he drained a 30-foot bomb —and 18, where he pitched in.

“I probably made up three and a half shots on those last two holes,’’ McIlroy said. “On 17, I still had 225 yards to the pin and hit a great 5-iron. That pitch on 18 couldn’t have been more perfect.’’

Stricker shot a 2-under-par 70 to stay alive for his first major win. Scott was right in the fight for first before stumbling with a double-bogey on 16 and fell four shots out of the lead.

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