Dufner's run continues with victory, FedExCup lead

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May 20, 2012
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor

IRVING, Texas -- Jason Dufner is a proud economics graduate of Auburn University who elicits cries of "War Eagle" from his rapidly growing fanbase. Amanda, his wife of 15 days, went to college at Auburn's most hated rival, the University of Alabama.

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Amanda said she's actually started cheering for Auburn's ... basketball team. But when it comes to football, the newlyweds are on opposite sides of the aisle. The wedding vows did not include a compromise in this area.

"He thinks he's slowing converting me," Amanda said, "but that's not the case."

That's OK. There are plenty of other converts, mainly golf fans who are now convinced that Jason Dufner is one of the PGA TOUR's most lethal forces.

Having gone 0-for-163 to start his career, Dufner has now won two of his last three starts, the latest coming on Sunday at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. His clutch birdie putt from 25 feet, 5 inches on the final hole allowed him to avoid a playoff with 42-year-old Dicky Pride, who was seeking his first win in nearly 18 years.

Pride, by the way, went to the University of Alabama, and on Sunday, wore a belt with little Alabama "A's" on it. Is there delicious irony in this?

"Everyone is making a big deal about that," said Pride, who would've set a TOUR record for most time between wins had he pulled off the victory. "But he married a woman from Alabama to show him around. ... Someone has to do it."

All kidding aside, Pride was not upset about coming in second to an Auburn man. Last year when a devastating tornado struck the Tuscaloosa area, Pride organized a charitable pro-am. Dufner was the first one to call, telling Pride he was coming and bringing his own team and, oh by the way, was there anything else he can help with?

"For a guy that doesn't say much," Pride said, "that says a lot about him."

Don't worry, Dufner's game is saying plenty right now.

Before entering the final round with a one-stroke lead, Dufner preached patience, saying that it would be required on a day with a crowded leaderboard. He's endured harsh lessons in learning the ebb and flow of a final round; the education was particularly bitter at the PGA Championship last year when he bogeyed the last three holes and lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.

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Dufner to No. 1
Jason Dufner knocked Hunter Mahn from the top of the FedExCup ranks after his second victory in three starts. See where everyone stands by clicking here.

But three weeks ago, he broke through with his first TOUR win, beating World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els on the second playoff hole at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Having learned how to win, he apparently can't stop now.

When he stumbled out of the gate on Sunday with bogeys on the second and third holes, the laid-back Dufner never wavered; he bounced back with consecutive birdies.

When playing competitor J.J. Henry aced the par-3 fifth to take a two-shot lead, Dufner took it in stride. In fact, once they reached the green and Henry plucked his ball from the cup, Dufner made birdie on that same hole to quickly cut the lead to one.

When Henry rolled in a 32-foot birdie putt at the 15th hole to take a one-shot lead, Dufner never wavered. With good reason.

"It was still too early," a disappointed Henry said. "Anything can happen on the last two holes."

When he heard the roars as Pride rolled in a par-saving putt from 22 feet, 7 inches at the 18th hole to keep a share of the lead at 10 under, Dufner wasn't even fazed. He hit his approach shot to the same area of the green that Pride has just putted from, then calmly drained the tournament winner that moves him to the top of the FedExCup standings.

"I've been in a couple of playoffs," Dufner said. "I really didn't want to get in another one."

The unique thing about Dufner is that he's now won two events this year -- Hunter Mahan is the only other multiple winner in 2012 -- and he's not even one of the TOUR's best putters.

He came into the week ranked tied for 117th in the TOUR's primary putting category, strokes gained-putting. This week, he ranked 56th in a weekend field of 71 players. He actually lost strokes on the green at the TPC Four Seasons Resort course.

But from tee to green, no player was better. Dufner ranked second in driving accuracy and first in greens in regulation, and no player solved the tricky Texas crosswinds that hampered players during the middle two rounds.

"He's a really good player," Pride said. "I think we're all seeing that."

It's been a crazy four weeks for the 35-year-old Dufner. He won his first TOUR event, got married, spent his "honeymoon" at THE PLAYERS Championship last week, then won again.

In the last month, he's gone from long-time non-winner to FedExCup leader; has practically guaranteed his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team; has taken up residence in the top 25 in the world rankings; and has emerged as one of the favorites going into next month's U.S. Open.

"You probably couldn't dream it any better than what's been going on here," Dufner said.

Neither can Amanda. She's still feeling the euphoria from the win in New Orleans, but somehow she'll need to process a second win for her husband.

"The first one hasn't even hit me yet," she said. "It's been a whirlwind."

Indeed, it's an incredibly happy, dizzying time for Jason and Amanda Dufner right now. But they better enjoy it while they can -- after all, Auburn plays Alabama on Nov. 24.

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