Sunday to test patiences as much as it test's golf

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May 19, 2012
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor

IRVING, Texas -- Patience is not a virtue at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. It's a requirement. It's mandatory for survival in these parts, just like having an affinity for cheese enchiladas or pickup trucks. It's a Texas thing.

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Patience will be at a premium on Sunday. Tricky crosswinds that made for challenging scoring conditions in Saturday's third round may very well blow again in the final round. Add a bunched-up leaderboard and the usual pressure that comes with being in contention at a PGA TOUR event, and the test of nerves and composure will be just as important as a test of skill. Perhaps more.

The 54-hole leader, Jason Dufner, knows this. That hasn't always been the case.

For the 15th time in his career, Dufner is holding or sharing the lead after one of the first three rounds at a PGA TOUR event; it's the fourth time after 54 holes. Not until a month ago in New Orleans did he learn how to finally close the deal. Prior to that, he had shown signs of being an elite player but struggled to finish. You remember last year's PGA Championship, right?

But Dufner is different now. Winning in New Orleans taught him the value of patience. Surviving Saturday's third round at the TPC Four Seasons Resort hammered it home. He started the day with a one-shot lead, saw eight other players drift in and out at the top of the leaderboard, but when the last putt dropped on Saturday, Dufner was right where he started the day, with a one-shot lead at 8 under.

"One of the biggest lessons I have probably learned in the last two years or so is patience and the value of patience out here on the PGA TOUR," Dufner said.

He cited an example during Friday's second round. He started his round with bogeys on two of his first three holes. In the past, that might have caused his implosion, the point of no return, a time to throw his hands in the air.

Not anymore.

Instead, he stayed patient, told himself the round was just getting started, that there was plenty of time to rally. And so he did. A couple of chip-ins for birdie late in his round put him in the lead. On Saturday, he overcame another early bogey, playing the last 15 holes in a bogey-free 2 under to shoot 69.

"Just the value of patience out here and knowing that not every shot is life or death," Dufner explained about his improved mindset. "You can make up shots, you can make 50-footers -- you have to be patient."

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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 at TPC Four Seasons. Projections

The 26 players who are closest to him on the leaderboard -- all within six shots of the lead -- offer a wide variety of challengers.

Of his three immediate threats, two are hoping to end long victory droughts. J.J. Henry, who resides in nearby Fort Worth and wore purple pants on Saturday in honor of his alma mater, TCU, hasn't won since his only TOUR win in 2006. Dicky Pride's drought is even longer; his only TOUR win came 18 years ago.

The third player within a stroke of Dufner's lead is Jason Day, the 24-year-old Australian who won the HP Byron Nelson two years ago. Dufner's track record at this event -- he finished tied for fifth last year -- would indicate that the TPC Four Season is a course that suits his game and eye.

After shooting a 67 on Saturday, Day mentioned the key word.

"I was trying to stay as patient as possible," he said.

Patience isn't Day's problem here, though. It's the 18th hole. It almost cost him the title two years ago, as he found the water three times during his four rounds. He found the water again on Thursday, but managed to avoid it the last two days.

But the 18th still got the better of him Saturday. With a chance to go to 9 under and take the outright lead with a short birdie putt, Day instead three-putted from 8 feet to lose a stroke.

"One day that hole will pay me back," Day said. "Hopefully it's tomorrow."

In solo fifth is Vijay Singh, who might very well be the king of patience out here. After all, he had to wait until his 40s to do the majority of his winning -- a record 22 of his 34 TOUR wins have come since he turned 40.

Though he hasn't won since 2008 when he claimed the first two Playoffs events en route to winning the FedExCup, Singh still is unbeatable in terms of time spent on the range. Now, after shooting a 4-under 66, he's in position to end his four-year drought and add another remarkable achievement to his World Golf Hall of Fame career.

And yes, he too mentioned the key word.

Round 3 Recap: HP Byron Nelson

Jason Dufner shoots a 1-under 69 to take the lead into the final round.

"I've been playing well, the score doesn't reflect that," he said, alluding to this year's starts in which he's failed to produce a top-10 result. "I just have to be patient. Today my game kinda came around."

A couple of other contenders who know the value of patience include defending champion Keegan Bradley, who at one point on his front nine held the lead but skidded down the leaderboard after a triple bogey at the 11th and last week's PLAYERS champ Matt Kuchar, who also held the lead before a double bogey at the 14th, the second consecutive day he's suffered that fate at that hole.

One player who may not have the benefit of patience, though, is Phil Mickelson. At 2 under after his 69, he will need to make up ground quickly on Sunday. No eventual winner has rallied from more than four strokes down after 54 holes, so history is not on his side.

"I think I will be too far back to make a run," Mickelson said, "but you never know. Try to get a hot front nine tomorrow."

Certainly if the leaderboard becomes as scrambled on Sunday as it did during Saturday's round, no lead is safe. Yet it also showed that 18 holes in the heat and windy conditions of North Texas will punish the panic-stricken and reward the even-tempered.

"It's more of a test of patience than it is anything else, especially in these conditions," Dufner said. "It's difficult to be out there and close one of these in this type of situation."

He passed the test last month. He's 18 holes away from doing it again.

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