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PGA Championship: Dufner captures title at 10-under-par

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PITTSFORD — Being a bit of a golf historian, Jason Dufner has come to appreciate those that have gone before him, winning major championships and the hearts of fans around the world.

On a glorious Sunday afternoon in Western New York, the laid-back 36-year-old from Auburn, Ala., put his name alongside the likes of Hogan, Nicklaus and Trevino by collecting a major championship at one of the country’s great venues, historic Oak Hill Country Club.

Two years after squandering a lead on the back nine at the PGA Championship, and eventually losing in a playoff, Dufner didn’t flinch until the very end of Sunday’s final round of the 95th PGA Championship.

And it didn’t really matter because of his stellar play over the first 16 holes.

Carding a 2-under-par 68, including a 3-under-32 on the front side to seize the lead for good, Dufner claimed his first major crown with a two-shot victory over his playing partner, Jim Furyk.

His four-round total of 270, the lowest of six majors contested here, also included a course record-tying 63 on Friday. So Dufner will have more than a few special memories to take home besides the Wanamaker Trophy.

“Coming in I thought it was a ball-striker’s course, and that was in my favor,’’ said Dufner, who earned his third career victory. “To win on such a great test of golf, with such a great field is something I’ll never forget. I’ll be able to see my name on that trophy forever.’’

Dufner’s putter and iron game were sizzling hot when he needed them the most. He began the round by saving par from four feet on the opening hole, and six feet on the second hole.

Then starting with a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 4, he recorded six consecutive one-putts to make the turn at 11-under-par and gain the momentum for good.

He also hit short irons to two feet on No. 4 and 18 inches on No. 8 for a birdie. Dufner’s 6-iron to two feet for an eventual final birdie on No. 16 allowed him to even bogey the final two holes and still win.

“I knew the course would play a little tougher, and it did,’’ Dufner said. “But because I’ve been hitting lots of greens and fairways, I was pretty confident I could make some birdies while not taking careless chances.’’

For the week, Dufner led the field in greens in regulation, hitting an amazing 54 of 72. He also hit more than 75 percent of the fairways.

And while Dufner was producing plenty of magic shots, Furyk could not.

Beginning the day with a one-shot lead over Dufner, he made only two birdies, on 6 and 16, and was faced with long, lag putts all day.

He also bogeyed the final two holes and settled for a 1-over-par 71.

“I felt like I played good enough to win today,’’ Furyk said. “In last year’s U.S. Open, I felt like I gave that one away. Today, Jason went out and won it.’’

None of the other contenders were able to make a final move, either. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, starting the day two shots behind, shot a 70 to take third all by himself at 7-under-par.

His countryman, Jonas Blixt, also shot 70 to come in at 6-under par and in fourth all alone.

But it was Dufner who would not be denied this day.

He said he learned patience after losing that PGA in Atlanta to Keegan Bradley, and to “truly believe in myself and my game. I decided before I went out today that I would be confident in my swing, and that allowed me to swing aggressively most of the day. The last thing I wanted to do was play scared or soft.’’

“Jason played a great round of golf,’’ Furyk said. “He hit three iron shots to within a couple of feet where he had basically tap-ins for birdie. He played incredible.’’

The pivotal hole was No. 16 as Dufner was clinging to a one-shot lead over Furyk as they teed off. After both hit the fairway, Furyk misjudged his second, landing in deep rough, and left his third also in the rough. He eventually two-putted for bogey, while Dufner ripped his second shot to six feet and then drained the putt.

“My up-and-down on 15 was also big, and then I just stuffed that second shot on 16,’’ said Dufner, who earned $1,445,000 for the win. “Having a couple shot lead heading to those last two holes was certainly huge.’’

Scott Piercy fashioned the best round of the day, a 5-under-par 65, to finish at 5-under.

Former PGA champion David Toms had a 67 and finished 4-under. Jason Day was hot early then cooled down and settled for a 67 and ended at 3-under par, as did Zach Johnson (68), Dustin Johnson (69) and defending champion Rory McIlroy (70).

Tiger Woods shot 70 and finished in a tie for 40th spot. Phil Mickelson had a 72 and was tied for 72nd.

Besides the money, the trophy and lasting images, Dufner will also take some Oak Hill acorns and a sampling back to his new, 50-acre spread where he’s building a new home in Auburn.

“Hopefully, they’ll grow to be as beautiful as the trees are here,’’ Dufner said. “And every day when I look out my window, it will remind me of this week and this awesome place.’’

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