By Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- War Eagle anyway.
That's what they say at Auburn University when things don't go exactly as planned. Lose to LSU on a last-minute drive? War Eagle anyway. Lose to Georgia on a last-second field goal? War Eagle anyway. Lose the PGA Championship despite having a five-shot lead on the 15th tee? War Eagle anyway.
That's almost all Jason Dufner, a proud Auburn man, could hang his hat on Sunday after allowing a large lead to evaporate over the final four holes at the Atlanta Athletic Club. A combination of his own mistakes (bogeys at 15, 16 and 17) and the refuse-to-lose attitude of Keegan Bradley (birdies at 16 and 17) forced a three-hole playoff, which Bradley won by a shot.
“I'm disappointed now, but there are a lot of good things to take from this week,” Dufner said. “Coming from where I came from, to be in this position, it's a dream come true. I'm not going to let this define my career. Hopefully I'll have more time to win majors and use what happened today as a positive.”
For most of the afternoon, it appeared the Wanamaker Trophy would end up with Dufner's name etched on it. Certainly when the advantage reached five shots, it seemed appropriate to remind the engraver that there is only one “f” in Dufner. But that's when Dufner showed signs of slippage that he hadn't revealed all week.
He put his tee shot on the par-3 15th into the pond, but recovered to make a good bogey. Still, you could sense the air might be getting thinner. He put his hands on his hips and bent over to take a deep breath before walking to the next tee. Then came two more bogeys, each connecting like a couple of jabs to the midsection.
“I was more disappointed about 16 and 17 than 15,” he admitted. “Those are the ones that kind of stick out to me.”
At No. 16, he eased off a 4-iron on his approach and wound up in a bunker. He called it “my worst iron shot of the week.”
At No. 17, he rolled his long birdie putt about 15 feet past the hole and failed to make the comebacker.
“It seemed reasonable to get it close,” he said, “but it wasn't reasonable today,”
Dufner made a solid par on the 18th hole to force a three-hole, aggregate-score playoff, but lost the first two extra holes and trailed Bradley by two shots going back to the 18th. When both men hit their approach shots on the final hole onto the green, there was little that Dufner could do other than make his birdie putt and see if Bradley would make a mistake. Dufner made his birdie, but Bradley lagged his putt about a foot from the hole and rolled it in for a win.
A loss of this nature has the potential to crush the victim, but you get the impression that Dufner might be the exception. He's certainly not willing to play the victim card. He's already looking forward to the FedExCup playoffs, where he now ranks 25th and is in position to make his second visit to East Lake for the Tour Championship. He's earned exemptions into all the major championships for 2011.
“I'm disappointed in the fact that I couldn't close it out,” he said. “But on the other hand, I'm excited because I had a great finish in a major. You know, maybe looking back 10, 15 years from now, I'll feel disappointed that I let this one get away if I never get another chance. But I've got a feeling that I'm going to have some chances to win some majors and some other golf tournaments to close one out.”
In other words, War Eagle anyway.