By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Jason Dufner is a six-year veteran on the PGA Tour. Over those half-dozen years, Dufner has yet to win.
Through two rounds of the 93rd PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, the 34-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, finds himself tied for the halfway lead with PGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley at 5-under 135.
Could Dufner possibly make his first PGA Tour win a major one?
He’s not thinking about that much now, but…
“That would probably be the most meaningful thing to me in my career so far since I've never won anything,” he said. “It would be pretty amazing for the first win to be a major.”
After a blazing hot start to the season, including a playoff loss at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a tie for third at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, by the time the U.S. Open hit, Dufner fell into a bit of a slump.
Beginning at the U.S. Open, Dufner missed the cut in four consecutive starts and then decided it was time for a break. He took three weeks off prior to the PGA Championship and came into Atlanta Athletic Club refreshed and relaxed.
“I hadn't played very well this summer, but that's kind of par for the course for me, so I had three weeks off coming into this event,” he said. “I had never seen the golf course, but I've been here since Friday. Being in the South, playing college golf in the South, I seem to play most of my good events around Bermuda grass. So I was pretty pumped coming in. We don't get a chance to play too many majors on this grass.”
Since his Atlanta arrival, Dufner said he was able to sneak in 54 holes in the practice rounds before the tournament teed off on Thursday. That got him comfortable with the course, but he never thought he’d be at 5 under after 36 holes.
“I wouldn't say that I expected to be 5 under after two days, but you know, I felt like I could have a good chance if I played fairly well,” he said. “So I was pretty comfortable on this style of golf course.”
And did it ever show on Friday. Playing the back nine first, Dufner snatched up three consecutive birdies beginning on No. 11 before taking his first bogey of the day on No. 14. The birdie that started the run on No. 11 was the biggest highlight of them all, as he rolled in a 50-foot putt.
“That was a good way to start,” he said.
Dufner navigated his way through the final four holes on the back nine – which contain four of the seven most difficult holes on the course – beautifully, playing them in even par.
When Dufner made the turn to the front nine, he started out with a bogey on No. 2 – his 11th hole – but bounced back with a birdie on No. 3 and an eagle at the par-5 12th on a 25-foot putt. He capped off his best round in a major with an emphatic birdie on the ninth with a putt from 15 feet.
“Definitely a good way to finish,” Dufner said. “I think I played the last seven maybe 4 under, so that was definitely a strong finish to the day and good start for the weekend.”
While Dufner has never, “been there before,” so to speak in terms of winning, he did point out that he’s had a taste on a few occasions. He tied for fifth in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits a year ago, finishing two shots out of a playoff.
“I had a reasonable chance going into the last nine holes to catch those guys,” Dufner said. “I don't want to say that I've been there like a lot of guys, but I've had a taste of some opportunities to win some tournaments.”
The experience gained as a part of the pressure-cooker that is being in the hunt during the last nine holes of a major is something Dufner thinks will help him quite a bit this weekend.
“I think it'll be pretty key for the whole weekend,” he said. “I was in good position, maybe even surprised myself a little bit last year. I was struggling a little bit last year, put a nice last three rounds together at Whistling Straits and carried over a little bit into the playoffs, and I think maybe it carried over into this year.
“I think I'll use a lot of things,” Dufner added. “I don't get too excited or too down or too up. I just kind of play golf. I feel like I'm one of the best in the world at what I do, and you're going to have good weeks, you're going to have bad weeks, you're going to have disappointing nines, you're going to have disappointing weekends.
“That's just part of being a golf professional,” he said. “I kind of take it with a grain of salt and play and looking forward. I'm confident with where my game is at now, especially after today's round, and I feel like I can do some good things this weekend.”