US PGA: Jason Dufner is equal to the task

Jason Dufner at the 14th at Oak Hill on his way to a superb score. Picture: AP
Jason Dufner at the 14th at Oak Hill on his way to a superb score. Picture: AP
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Jason Dufner today equalled the lowest round in major championship history after coming up woefully short with a putt to claim the outright record in the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

Dufner needed to hole from 12ft on the 18th to card an eight-under-par 62, only to leave his birdie putt well short of the hole and have to settle for “only” a course-record 63.

It was the 26th such score recorded in a major and came just hours after Webb Simpson had equalled the previous course record of 64 set by Ben Hogan in 1942 and equalled by Curtis Strange in 1989.

“It’s tough,” Dufner said. “I showed a little bit of nerves there leaving it short. It’s one you would like to gun and have a chance at history (but) I am in pretty good company. The history of the game is something that is dear to my heart. To be part of history is a neat accomplishment, I never thought a guy from north east Ohio would be able to do these things.”

Former US Open champion Simpson was seven under par after 15 holes and needed to play the last three in one under to shoot 62, but could only manage a bogey and two pars.

Dufner carded an eagle and three birdies to be out in 31 and picked up further shots at the 11th, 13th and 16th before agonisingly missing from 20ft for birdie on the 17th. At nine under par the world No.21 held a two-shot lead over fellow American Matt Kuchar, who carded a 66 after dropping his first shot in two days on the 18th, and Masters champion Adam Scott.

Scott added a 68 to his opening 65 to finish one ahead of playing partner and US Open champion Justin Rose, who shot a stunning 66 thanks to a brilliant homeward nine of 29.

Dufner was at nine-under 131 midway through the tournament, tying the 36-hole PGA scoring record held by six other players. Shingo Katayama and David Toms were the last to do it, at the 2001 PGA in Atlanta.

But Dufner is hardly in the clear, not on a course that has been easy pickings for the world’s best players with its rain-softened greens.

During a round that began in dreary rain and finished in bright sunshine, Webb Simpson shot 64 to tie the course scoring record that was shared by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange. That lasted only a few hours, before Dufner came along to beat them all.

There were scores in the 60s all over the board – just not from Tiger Woods. Mired in the longest major drought of his career, he plodded to a 70 that left him at one-over 141 for the tournament, a staggering ten strokes off the lead.

Others fared better. Matt Kuchar shot 66, while 18-hole co-leaders Adam Scott and Jim Furyk both posted 68s, leaving all three tied at seven under. US Open winner Justin Rose, bouncing back from missing the cut at The Open, shot six-under 29 over his final nine holes for a 66 that left him three shots behind Dufner. Henrik Stenson also was six under after a 66 of his own. Robert Garrigus (68) and Steve Stricker (67) were at five under.

Scott is a serious contender for fourth time in the last six majors. “The platform has never been better for me to go on and win multiple majors,” he said. “You’ve got to take the confidence and form of winning a major and run with it.”

Last summer, he endured the bitter disappointment of losing out in the The Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes when it seemed he had it all but locked up before he bogeyed the final four holes. Instead of moping about that defeat, Scott used it as a catalyst to win at Augusta National, where he defeated Angel Cabrera on the second extra hole.

Three weeks ago, Scott had another Sunday lead on the back nine of the The Open at Muirfield before fading with another run of bogeys. “I’m playing well in the majors and giving myself a chance,” Scott said. “I don’t care if they call me the best player as long as I win on Sunday.”

Phil Mickelson, who triumphed at Muirfield, knew it was a day for going low, but his game wasn’t up to the task. Lefty shot his second straight 71, leaving him 11 shots off the lead and probably too far back to contend for a second straight major title.

Defending PGA champ Rory McIlroy headed to the weekend after bouncing back from a tough start. He played his first ten holes at five over, but closed with four birdies for a 71 that left him even for the tournament – nine shots behind.

“I’ve just got to try to get off to a fast start tomorrow,” said McIlroy, who won last year by a record eight strokes at Kiawah Island. “I need to shoot something in the mid-60s to give myself a chance on Sunday.”