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May 19 2012

12:54 AM

Dufner rules at halfway mark … again

Watch: Dufner chips in at 15

Jason Dufner chipped in from the off the green at the 15th hole during Friday's second round.

By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM

IRVING, Texas -- It should be no surprise that Jason Dufner will take a one-stroke lead into Saturday's third round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

The first 36 holes have belonged to him all year.

Dufner shot a 4-under 66 in tough conditions Friday afternoon to move to 7 under, one shot clear of a six-pack of challengers that includes last week's PLAYERS champ Matt Kuchar.

It's the seventh time this year that Dufner has either held or shared a lead after either the first or second round. And no one on the PGA TOUR this year has a better scoring average before the cut; Dufner is a combined 59 under in 24 rounds before the cut this year.

"I feel good about my game," Dufner said. "Usually when you're feeling good, you're going to go into the weekend leading or close to the lead, and I've been fortunate to be in that position."

Of course, leading after two rounds and closing the deal 36 holes later is among the toughest tasks on the PGA TOUR. Dufner had his difficulties on the weekend -- hard to forget the struggles he had down the stretch at last year's PGA Championship -- but his breakthrough win last month at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans now gives him some positives to draw on.

"Hopefully the experience that I had in New Orleans will build for me and I will have confidence going into the weekend," he said.

That confidence got a significant boost on Friday when he birdied four of his last five holes, including two chip-ins -- one from 36 feet at the par-4 15th and the other from 38 feet from behind the green at the 18th. The last one allowed him to slip ahead of the crowd and claim a spot in Saturday's final group with Chad Campbell.

"Sometimes you get those breaks, sometimes you don't," Dufner said.

But it's not good fortune that has Dufner in the lead -- just good play. In shooting a 3-under 67 in the first round, Dufner actually took more strokes with his putter (34) than all the other clubs in his bag (33), as he missed just one fairway and one green.

On Friday, his ball-striking wasn't as strong but he was "able to grind it out," Dufner said after missing five fairways and five greens.

Overall, though, Dufner thinks his swing is in good shape, especially if the winds blow as expected this weekend.

"The biggest thing for me is I feel I can control my golf ball," he said. "I feel like I can work it in the wind when I need to, work it with the wind if I need to, hit high shots, low shots. For me right now, ball-striking is pretty high up there with what I'm doing well.

"I think that can help me out a little bit this weekend."

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