Almost automatic: Dufner takes another 36-hole lead

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May 25, 2012
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor

FORT WORTH, Texas -- What's it like to play with the hottest golfer on the planet?

Ask Rickie Fowler: "He makes it look easy."

Or ask Matt Kuchar: "He's just not missing shots."

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Those two had just spent 36 holes grouped with Jason Dufner in the first two rounds of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. It was as if they were playing a different, more difficult course.

Fowler, as usual, wore the more colorful attire. Kuchar, despite some struggles, flashed the most smiles. But neither player could match Dufner's performance inside the ropes.

Fresh off his two wins within the last month, including last week's HP Byron Nelson Championship, Dufner backed up his opening 5-under 65 at Colonial with an even-better round -- a bogey-free 64 that leaves him at 11 under for the two days. That gives him a two-shot lead over 2010 Crowne Plaza champ Zach Johnson.

If the FedExCup leader can maintain the lead the next two days, he will set PGA TOUR history as the only player to win the two North Texas tournaments in successive weeks. Ben Hogan is the only player to have won both events in the same year (1946).

"That would be a pretty neat thing," Dufner said. "I didn't realize that nobody has won these events back-to-back."

It didn't seem conceivable a month ago that Dufner would be challenging history or possibly linking his name to Hogan. But then he broke through last month with his first TOUR win in New Orleans. Then last week's win outside Dallas.

And now this.

"He's playing some great golf. Mistake-free," said Kuchar, the 2012 PLAYERS champion who is at 1 over for two days. "It's pretty to watch. He's definitely got it going. It's awesome."

Added Fowler, 4 under heading into the weekend: "You can see how much confidence he's playing with right now. He's definitely in control of his golf ball and hitting his numbers. ... I don't really see him hitting too many bad shots."

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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 Colonial. Projections

Indeed. Dufner had a couple of bogeys on Thursday, but he was bogey-free on Friday. He opened with three straight birdies, hit 15 of 18 greens, played safe when necessary and never found himself in awkward spots. He's so dialed in with his irons that he didn't even need any lengthy putts to shoot 64; he only made one putt longer than 10 feet on Friday.

More important is the confidence that Fowler mentioned. Dufner is overflowing with it. He's doing whatever he needs to do with his golf ball.

"When I step to the first tee, I feel like I'm going to play a good round of golf," Dufner said. "That's a nice way to play golf. It's a comfortable way to play golf."

Fowler and Kuchar have found their own comfort zones lately. Fowler won the Wells Fargo Championship; Kuchar followed at THE PLAYERS. Fowler tied for second that week and continues to ride the momentum at Colonial.

But Dufner has more of it ... and that will make him tough to catch this weekend. After all, he's won the last two times he's held the 36-hole lead.

"I don't expect him to move backwards," Fowler said. "He's playing well right now and the course set-up is great. I wouldn't expect him to shoot anything over par."

Said Kuchar: "He's doing everything well. He's putting it beautifully. He's just not missing shots. He and his caddie Kevin (Baile) are taking it pretty easy, firing at pins and making a bunch of birdies."

Johnson can't match Dufner's recent results, but he might be able to match his confidence level at Colonial.

Johnson's 3-under 67 on Friday was his 14th straight round in the 60s on this course. Compare that to Dufner, who missed the cut in two of his three previous starts here. His last round at Colonial prior to this week was a 6-over 76.

Obviously, Dufner is a much different player now, a more formidable force. But on the weekend, with the pressure ratcheted up, perhaps the comfortability factor and prior success in this event will give Johnson a slight edge.

"I'm going to dwell on some of those positive feelings I've had in the past," he said.

Fowler and Kuchar came away impressed after watching Dufner for 36 holes. Now Johnson gets a close look, spending the next 18 holes with Dufner in Saturday's final twosome.

Thus, the question shifts: What will it be like to play with the hottest golfer on the planet?

"I'm looking forward to it," Johnson said. "Any time you play late on Saturday is a good feeling."

Nobody feels better about his golf game right now than Jason Dufner.

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