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June 17 2012

3:43 PM

Solid opening stretch key for Dufner

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Jason Dufner has another chance to win a major championship on Sunday.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

SAN FRANCISCO -- The way Jason Dufner sees it, the first six holes at The Olympic Club could be key in today's final round of the U.S. Open.

Survive them, maybe even make a birdie somewhere, and you've likely gained ground on the field. Dufner was even par on that difficult stretch in shooting 70 on Saturday. In fact, he's played those holes even in two of the first three rounds -- and just 3 over for the week -- so he should have confidence starting out.

The Olympic Club yields birdies grudgingly, but keep the ball in the fairway on Sunday and Dufner says you'll have some birdie chances over the next nine holes. And there's a legitimate opportunity to be aggressive over the closing stretch, which features back-to-back par 5s, depending on where you stand.

"I think you could have a nice finish to the championship tomorrow with a lot of guys in the mix," Dufner said.  "I would like to make a run, obviously. Those first six holes are pretty tough to play too aggressive or crazy aggressive and pick up birdies, but go through that first six in even and maybe pick up a couple in the middle stretch and give yourself a chance with those last couple holes."

Dufner is no stranger to major championship pressure, either.

He lost last year's PGA Championship in a playoff after taking the lead into the final round. He gets a chance to win one from behind today, starting the final round at 3 over, just four shots off the pace being set by Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, who already have U.S. Open titles on their resumes.

Dufner is arguably the hottest player on the PGA TOUR right now. He currently leads the FedExCup after winning twice in four events and finishing second in one of the others. He’s improved each day at Olympic, too, opening with a 72 and shooting one stroke lower each successive day.

"It's just tough when you've hit a lot of good shots and you didn't make, convert putts," Dufner said. "Obviously pars are going a long way, but when you're behind a little bit like I am, you would like to pick up a birdie or two, especially when you've had some putts inside of 10 feet, because it's pretty tough to get it inside 10 feet on this golf course.
   
"So I would like to be two or three better, feel like I played good enough, just haven't converted on some opportunities out there."

Sunday would be a good time to start.

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