Dufner hopes to maintain comfort level one more day

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April 28, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

AVONDALE, La. -- Jason Dufner has every right to be nervous. After all, he's getting married in just six days.

Sunday, though, could be a life-changer, too, as Dufner chases what would be his first PGA TOUR victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He and his fiancee Amanda Boyd would like nothing better than to get a head start on the celebration, too.

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"Both of us have been a little bit surprised with how well I've been able to focus with golf with the wedding coming up," Dufner admitted.

Dufner has played so well, in fact, he'll take a two-stroke lead into the final round at TPC Louisiana. It's his third 54-hole lead on TOUR -- Dufner ended up tied for third at the 2009 RBC Canadian Open and lost in a playoff at the 2011 PGA -- and he may have cleared a major hurdle just to get there.

After all, prior to Saturday, Dufner's third-round scoring average was 71.5, which ranked 98th on the PGA TOUR. But he bucked that trend with a 67 and hung tough throughout the afternoon despite being tied four times, three by John Rollins and once by Graham DeLaet, which had to be a confidence boost.

Dufner's comfort zone at TPC Louisiana can't be underestimated, either. While he wouldn't go so far as to say the Pete Dye creation is at the top of his list, he has tied for ninth, seventh and third in his last three starts and is a cumulative 50 under in his last 15 rounds.

"It's not a golf course that I absolutely am in love with but my results I'm in love with here," Dufner said. "When you come in a week that you know you played well a lot it gives you some confidence going forward."

Dufner will need every bit of swagger he can muster on Sunday as he faces off against proven winners like World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, John Rollins, Ryan Palmer and Luke Donald, who is ranked second in the world. Not to mention, DeLaet, who is alone in second; Cameron Tringale and Ken Duke are all as hungry for that first win as Dufner is.

"I feel I'm not too far back," said Els, who trails by three as he seeks to end a victory drought of more than two years. "... Going to take good golf tomorrow. I'm up for it."

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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

Stricker is another stroke behind after shooting a 69 on Saturday. The enormously consistent 45-year-old likes his position with only three players and four strokes between him and Dufner as Stricker seeks his second win of the season.

"Ernie is up there, John Rollins is up there. You know, Dufner is playing great," Stricker said. "He hasn't won yet. He's going to be fighting some nerves coming down the stretch tomorrow and so will I. It's a nerve-wracking situation but that's part of the fun, too. That's why we put ourselves in this position."

TPC Louisiana has been generous this week, too. Three players, including Palmer on Saturday, have already matched the course record of 64. In fact, the scoring average on Friday and Saturday was nearly a stroke-and-a-half below par.

There's danger, too, though -- just ask Donald, one of the game's steadiest players, who hit three in the water on Thursday alone. And don't forget the winds which may not be as brisk as they were earlier in the week but Mother Nature made up for the lack of bluster Saturday with more variety in terms of its direction.

"It's going to be tough tomorrow," Stricker said. "This is a course where there's some trouble out there and if you're playing around the lead or in the lead, you know, sometimes you're going to play a little more cautious."

For Rollins this week, though, ignorance has been bliss. He hasn't looked at a scoreboard for the first time in his career, and after three rounds in the 60s, he doesn't plan any changes for Sunday, either.

"It's been fun," the upbeat Rollins said. "I've just been out there playing golf and not really worrying about it. So tomorrow I'm going to try to do it, tell my caddie to keep his eyes on the board and tell me anything I need to do when it gets late in the round and hopefully come the last four, five holes have a chance."

Dufner, on the other hand, isn't a scoreboard watcher, per se. He likes to know where he stands, though -- especially on the back nine, where his position could dictate how he plays.

Round 3 Recap

Jason Dufner tops a crowded leaderboard at TPC Louisiana.

"If you're two down or a shot back you might take more of a risk," Dufner explained. "If you're four shots up, you might play more conservative. It doesn't put any pressure on me. Kind of lets me know where I stand and how I might need to approach some shots coming down the stretch."

Dufner doesn't have to be reminded that his record on the weekend hasn't been great. No one on TOUR has led or held a share of the lead after the first or second rounds more this year than Dufner -- six to be exact -- yet his best finish is a tie for eighth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

One those was at the Masters, where he was tied with Fred Couples at the midway point at Augusta National only to close with a pair of 75s. At least he was there, though, just like he was at the PGA last year, and Dufner knows he's playing well enough to get it done.

So forget the sports psychology book that well-meaning friend sent to Dufner last week. You're more likely to find him enjoying a meal at Dragos or Brennans Saturday night than obsessing over the possibilities Sunday brings.

"Obviously you're going to have some thoughts about winning tournaments when you're in a position like this, what your expectations might be, how you're going to respond tomorrow when you step on that first tee but for me, usually when the day is over, I'm done with it," Dufner said.

Sunday's warm-up session? Now, that's another story. The first two or three holes, too. "You kind of get a little anxious and have some thoughts as to how the day is going to go," admitted Dufner, who never seems to show the emotions that teem inside.

Considering that he has birdied his first hole twice this week and the second hole once, though, those nerves may evaporate quickly. But even after the promise born of three good rounds, Dufner is trying not to get ahead of himself.

"Obviously I know that I hadn't played as well as I would like on the weekends, try to identify some of the reasons why and try to implement some of those tomorrow," he said. "I could give you a better idea tomorrow after the round how that goes. We'll just go from there."

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