LA QUINTA, Calif. -- PGA West has been the site of two career-changing weeks for Jason Dufner.
His victory in the CareerBuilder Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation ended a victory drought that had stretched more than two years. He shot 25-under 263 and beat David Lingmerth in a playoff to earn his fourth PGA TOUR victory and first since the PGA Championship in August 2013. The win ended a prolonged slump for one of the game’s most popular players.
“When you play bad out here and you don’t have the results you want and you don’t meet expectations, … you get down. It’s tough out here,” Dufner said. “So I wanted to really dedicate myself to believing that I’m a great player again. And I don’t know what that means. Does that mean it’s top-50 in the world, top-5 in the world, best player in the world? I don’t know.”
Dufner once ranked as high as No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking (June 2012) and finished as high as 11th in the FedExCup (2009). His road to such lofty status started at PGA West, more than seven years before his CareerBuilder victory.
Three of the CareerBuilder’s four rounds were played at PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament and TPC Stadium courses. Those two courses hosted Q-School in December 2008 and Dufner, desperate to keep his PGA TOUR card, practically camped out at PGA West in preparation.
“I was pretty down on where I was at, golf-wise. I was struggling to stay out here,” he recalled. “I remember working really hard for about two months from the end of the season before we came out here. I probably played each (course) four or five times before that Q-School started. I played unbelievable.
“And to be honest with you, this is kind of where everything started for me, because then in 2009 I had a really nice season. That’s kind of when I started playing some really good golf.”
Dufner went from Q-School to the following year’s TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, finishing 11th in the FedExCup after a runner-up finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He’d finish 65th in the following season’s FedExCup, but then qualify for the TOUR Championship in the next three years. His first three victories came in a two-season span in 2012 (Zurich Classic of New Orleans, AT&T Byron Nelson) and 2013.
Dufner struggled over the past couple seasons, though. He finished outside the top 85 in the FedExCup in 2014 and 2015 and didn’t win. He posted more missed cuts (seven) than top-10s (six) in that span, and had fallen to No. 120 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’d started to see some signs this season, finishing T9 in his two starts before the CareerBuilder and winning last month’s Franklin Templeton Shootout with Brandt Snedeker.
“I’m excited for this year. I’m excited to accomplish one of my goals this early in the year. I’m excited to keep playing well,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing some really good stuff. Usually when you win tournaments you get really confident and that kind of breeds some more winning or some more chances to win.
“So I’m excited about it. I feel it’s the best I’ve ever felt health-wise probably in the last four or five years, so hopefully I can stick to my schedule that I’ve set out and play a lot of golf this year and get back to that TOUR Championship and be a part of that Ryder Cup team.”
Top 5 Microsoft Insights
1. Jason Dufner’s ball-striking ability is no secret, but how about this stat? Dufner made birdie on 28 of the 56 par-4s or par-5s he played this week. That’s 50 percent. He’s just the third winner since 1980 to make birdie or better on at least half of his par-4s and par-5s.
2. Dufner made a career-best 30 birdies at the CareerBuilder. His previous best was 27, which he had done three times, all at the CareerBuilder. He didn’t finish better than T18 in any of those three years, though.
3. Dufner now has a streak of 18 consecutive rounds of par or better, dating back to the CIMB Classic.
4. Jamie Lovemark’s T6 at the CareerBuilder was his third consecutive top-10. He finished runner-up in his fourth PGA TOUR start as a pro, the 2009 Frys.com Open. He didn’t have another top-10 on TOUR until this season.
5. Kevin Na’s T3 was his fourth top-three finish in six starts this season. None of those are victories, though. At No. 3 in the FedExCup, Kevin Na is the highest-ranked player without a victory. He ranks ahead of eight players who have won this season.
TOP VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
1. Jason Dufner said the odds of his ball ending up here were 1 in 50 million. So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Shot of the Day
Jason Dufner’s incredible escape from the rocks is the Shot of the Day
2. Chesson Hadley wasn't as fortunate in the rocks surrounding the 17th. He was good-natured about this blooper, though. The eagle on the next hole, where he holed out from 142 yards, probably helped ease the sting.
Chesson Hadley’s rocky double bogey at CareerBuilder
3. The CareerBuilder’s return to PGA West’s TPC Stadium Course allowed us to use this classic highlight from the 1987 Skins Game.
Lee Trevino aces No. 17 at PGA WEST TPC Stadium Course
4. Two amateurs made aces during the CareerBuilder Challenge. This one made a net 1, but his celebration earned him a spot in this space:
5. Any golf nut has done this drill at one time. It was validation to see it used by the eventual champion on Sunday’s final nine.
Jason Dufner working to stay connected on his practice swings. pic.twitter.com/5N3Umx1jtd— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 24, 2016