Dufner looking at yet another opportunity to break through

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April 27, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

AVONDALE, La. -- Jason Dufner knows his friends mean well.

He's even read a little of that sports psychology book that arrived, unsolicited, in the mail last week. But if Dufner is going to get over the hump, if he's finally going to finally convert one of these 36-hole leads into a victory, the 35-year-old knows that his actions over the next two days will speak louder than any of those words written on a page.

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Dufner has now held at least a share of the lead at the midway point of six PGA TOUR events since 2008 -- including four times in his last 16 starts, so he must be doing something right. Two of those, in fact, have been at the last two majors, which speaks to how well Dufner has performed under the most discerning of microscopes.

That first victory, though, has proven elusive for the soft-spoken Auburn grad. Hence, the self-help book and pamphlet that have turned up in his mailbox back in his sweet home in Alabama.

"So everybody is really concerned about my mental side of the game, I guess but, you know, I looked at some of it," Dufner said. "The mental part is not an easy part because it seems very simple: you know, just think positive. ...

"But it's hard to do when you're out there in the heat of battle and things aren't going well. You just shot 65 and now you're 1 over through 12 holes. I think you just -- you got to trust your game a little bit better."

Dufner has another opportunity to test himself this weekend as he takes a one-stroke lead into the third round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He played a near flawless round on Friday, making five birdies in his first 11 holes and capping things off with a 29-foot eagle putt at the last hole.

His comfort zone at TPC Louisiana could work in Dufner's favor this week, too. He has tied for ninth, seventh and third in his last three starts at the Zurich Classic. He has shot in the 60s in five of those weekend rounds, too.

"This week is always good for myself and my fiancee, we love coming here, we love the food here, we love staying downtown and ... I always love playing this golf course," said Dufner, who marries Amanda Boyd next Saturday. "So maybe that will equal some better success on the weekend."

Ah, the weekend, those final two rounds that have proven so problematic for him. The stats, unfortunately, speak for themselves. Dufner ranks second in scoring average on TOUR before the cut but 98th in the third round and 108th over the final 18 holes.

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Projected points
The race for spots in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup continues this week. Click to see who's making moves. Projections

"I've got to putt better," Dufner said. "I see the putts really well on Thursday and Friday and I think in the heat of the moment weaknesses show up a little bit. Putting has been a weaker part of my game for years. I'm trying to get better with it and understand where my weaknesses are, what I need to work on.

"To be honest with you, I'm trying to let go of things more and not think about things as much and just let my game kind of do the talking for me and take me, hopefully, to one of these victories."

Right now, though, he's got some pretty high profile near-misses to ponder.

At the PGA Championship last year, Dufner held a share of the lead after the second and third rounds and was up by a seemingly unsurmountable four on the back nine Sunday. He couldn't coax it home, though, making three straight bogeys starting at the 15th hole and scrambling for par at the 18th just to make the playoff that Keegan Bradley won.

And earlier this month, Dufner was tied with one of his idols, Fred Couples, after two rounds at Augusta National and played with him in the final group on Saturday. Dufner ended up shooting a pair of 75s on the weekend and finished 24th, two weeks after he led by two strokes after two rounds at the Transitions Championship only to fall three shots shy of another playoff.

Tough courses, all. Courses that only get tougher as the week progresses. The cream of the crop in terms of the competition, too. Dufner sees more margin for error here at TPC Louisiana, though -- not that he will go into Saturday's third round expecting to make them. He's too much of a competitor for that.

Dufner appears so even keeled on the golf course it's hard to imagine the emotions that must teem inside. Golf Channel announcer Charlie Rymer called him a 'flat-liner" as replays of that closing eagle putt that barely elicited a fist pump on Friday filled the screen.

But Dufner has too much talent not to finally break through, and Sunday just might be the day he puts all of these questions -- his, as well as ours -- to rest.

"It's been a difficult weekend for me the last month and a half or so," Dufner said. "I haven't quite played as well as I would have liked but I know that my game is still pretty good. Obviously there's a lot of different things that go into winning besides hitting the golf ball. So I've been trying to think about what I can do better mentally, what I can do better emotionally out there. ...

"Hopefully, maybe, this will be the week. I've had a lot of really nice finishes here on this golf course and feel pretty comfortable."

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