Jason Dufner made a 25-foot birdie on the 18th hole on Sunday to win the HP Byron Nelson Championship in dramatic fashion at the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas in Irving, Texas for his second-career PGA TOUR victory. Dufner finished Sunday three-under-par 67 to post 269 (-11) on the par-70 layout. Dicky Pride, after a heroic closing par from the water on 18, finished second at 10-under-par 270. Joe Durant, Marc Leishman, Jonas Blixt and J.J. Henry all posted nine-under-par 271 to tie for third.
What a month it has been for Jason Dufner. The column I wrote after his playoff victory at Zurich was titled “O-fer No More” because Dufner hadn’t found the winners circle yet in a career that spanned over 160 events. Here we are four weeks later and now he has been married and has added another victory to his 2012 season. Dufner had struggled with playing golf on the weekends in his career but those demons are now dead and gone. Dufner’s first-career victory saw him out-duel Hall-of-Famer Ernie Els in a playoff and Sunday’s victory saw him finish off journeyman Dicky Pride with a ruthless birdie putt. No matter the aura of his opponent Dufner has recently shown he’s now ready to win regardless of who’s chasing him. He still has one more hurdle to clear and that’s closing out a major. He had a three-shot lead with three holes to play at last year’s PGA Championship before falling to rookie Keegan Bradley in a playoff. History is a fantastic teacher and Dufner has shown this be learning from his lessons over the last few years. Yep, that’s right. It’s always “what’s next” when are talking about golf.
Dufner finished the week first in GIR and second in driving accuracy. He also finished in the mid-50’s in all three putting categories yet still tied for most birdies made this week with 19. If he would have made anything on the greens outside of his putt to win the tournament, he would have absolutely crushed this field. TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas is known for having some of the toughest starting holes on TOUR and Dufner played the first three holes in five-over-par for the week. It was the back nine where Dufner made his money this week as he was six-under-par and only carded three bogeys. He closed out Sunday with birdies on 16 and 18 for his second victory in his last three tournaments. Dufner finished with all four rounds in the 60’s this week as well. After finishing T8 here last year it safe to say that Dufner enjoys TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas.
If Dufner hasn’t made it to “automatic selection” status for your fantasy team yet, he should now. Since missing the cut in his season-opener at the Sony, Dufner has cashed in 12 straight. During his 12 straight cuts-made streak, he’s won twice and has six other top 25’s. There’s no point to over-thinking this as the season progresses. His demeanor and his game are absolutely solid and his stats back them up. His putting numbers (146th total putting) might put some fear into choosing him but his driving accuracy (sixth), GIR (13th) and scrambling (24th) should make you forget about the putting quite quickly.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
Jason Dufner is the first player to win the HP while leading or co-leading heading into the final round since Adam Scott (2008).
The last 12 of 21 players in stroke play events who led after 54 holes on Tour have lost the lead in the final round. Jason Dufner has now gone on to win twice with the 54-hole lead in 2012, bucking this trend.
Dufner now joins Hunter Mahan as the only two players on TOUR with two victories this season. That’s pretty good ANY year let alone this season with the Ryder Cup beckoning in September. Dufner collects $1,170,000 and 500 FedExCup points with his victory. He now leads Hunter Mahan by 40 points in the season-long race.
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 22 tournaments this season the “Young versus Old” argument now stands at 10-10-2 as Jason Dufner again cashes for the “Middle” men.
For the “young”, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24) and Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29), Rory McIlroy (22), Justin Rose (31) and now Rickie Fowler (23) lead the way for the “Young” guys.
Mark Wilson (37) is joined by George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Jason Dufner TWICE (35) and Matt Kuchar (33) in the “Middle”.
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are flying the flag for the “Old” folks on Tour.
Dufner’s win makes it five straight for the boys with starts and stripes. Eight of the last 10 winners on TOUR have been U.S. since Luke Donald’s win at TC. It’s great to see the U.S. players rounding into form as the weather heats up.
Dicky Pride: His last win on TOUR was 1994 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. I was a freshman in college so I know for a fact this was a VERY long time ago. Pride began his season with back-to-back top-seven finishes at Mayakoba (T5) and The Honda (T7) before a T20 (PRO). In his last three outings, Pride was T48 (API), MC (VTO) and T48 (WFC). Pride isn’t mentioned with the longest hitters but he is mentioned with the straightest. Pride was T12 in driving accuracy and T13 in GIR. His flat stick also helped him to his third, top-seven finish by racking up T3 in putts per GIR. His biggest putt of the day came on Sunday as he rolled in a 22-footer for par on 18 after his tee shot found the water. That separated him from the pack of guys at nine-under and the runner-up money was all his! That showed some serious guts. Not bad for the 354th-ranked player in the OWGR.
Joe Durant: The last man into the field this week (replaced Joe Ogilvie who WD) took complete advantage of his situation by finishing T3 after a blistering weekend of 65-65 (-10). Durant had made the cut in three of five events in 2012 with his best finish being T32 (PRO). In six events in 2012 Durant has almost made as much money as he did in all of 25 events last year. He found a purple patch this week but I wouldn’t start penciling him into your lineup just yet based on his recent play.
Marc Leishman: Leishman cemented his “horse for course” standing this week at HP after his T3 has seen him now hit the top 12 three times in the last four events. His week was solid as he ranked in the top 26 in GIR, strokes gained-putting and driving accuracy. He only made five bogeys on the week against 14 birdies but it will be the two double-bogeys on Saturday that will get under his skin. This is the Aussie’s best finish of 2012 and his best finish on TOUR since his T3 (API) last year. Be careful going forward with Leishman as a.) He plays THIS course really well and b.) He hasn’t had a top 20 in his last eight starts.
Jonas Blixt: The Swede has hit the top 13, T3, for the third-consecutive week backing up his T13 (Zurich) and his T9 (WFC). Whereas Jason Dufner dominated the final three holes, Blixt struggled, especially with 17 as he made bogey there the last three rounds. The one aspect Blixt did not struggle with this week was his putter as he was T3 or better in all three putting categories. Blixt had missed five of nine cuts before his streak of three tournaments in the top 13.
J.J. Henry: The T.C.U. grad and Fort Worth, Texas resident gave his hometown fans a great ride this week before he heads to his home course, Colonial, next week. He thrilled them with an ace on his fifth hole of the day and broke their hearts with a double-bogey after three-putting 17 green to lose the lead. Henry was looking for his first win on TOUR since the 2006 Buick Classic. Henry’s T3, with all four rounds under par, is his second top 10 of the season after his T9 (Mayakoba) and he needs to be on your radar next year here as he has now made the cut in 10 of 11 events at HP.
Ken Duke: Another accurate driver and superb putter, Duke used both those attributes to finish T7 this week as he was second in GIR and seventh in driving accuracy. Duke’s season of up-and-down continues as he hit the top 10 for the fourth time in 2012. He’s made the cut in 12 events of 15 but his best finish outside of the top 10 is T32. The moral of the story is when Duke plays well, he plays really well. He’s worth keeping an eye-on if fields are thin.
Phil Mickelson: He fired his way up the leaderboard on Sunday before he bogeyed his final two holes for 66 and T7. He continued his excellent iron play as he finished the week T7 GIR. Mickelson rebounded this week after T26 (WFC) and T25 (THE PLAYERS) and played all four rounds par or better. He remains an automatic selection for me.
Robert Garrigus: Known for his prodigious length off the tee, Garrigus flashed some excellent iron play (T7 GIR) this week to help him hit the top 10 for the third time in 2012. After missing back-to-back cuts at API and the Masters Garrigus has heated up to finish T13 (RBC), T15 (WFC), MC (THE PLAYERS) and now T9 this week after his 68-66 weekend.
Ryan Palmer: Last year’s runner-up now has consecutive top 10’s at HP after his T9 this week. This was only Palmer’s third cut-made in nine events at TPC Four Seasons (T73 2006) as he made 18 birdies but was ultimately undone by his 13 bogeys. In his last three events, Palmer was T4 (Zurich), MC (THE PLAYERS) and T9 this week so his recent form has been excellent. The Colleyville, Texas resident is in the field for Colonial and should garner a look-see for gamers.
Jason Bohn: His 67-68 weekend vaulted him into the top 10 (T9) for the first time since his victory at Zurich in 2010. Gamers need to take this into account when thinking about adding him to their rosters in the future. He lead the field in driving accuracy this week.
Pat Perez: His ball-striking (T17 driving accuracy; T13 GIR) vaulted him to a T9 finish for his first top 10 since Reno-Tahoe last year. Perez has made 10 cuts in 13 starts and has amassed seven top 25’s so he does have value moving forward. Perez finished T25 at THE PLAYERS last week so he’s riding a nice two-week wave.
Jason Day: After finishing fifth last year after his victory in 2010, Day will probably be glad not to see the 18th hole at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas for another year. Day doubled the hole Thursday and Sunday and made bogey on Saturday. His double on Sunday knocked him out of sixth place alone into T9. Day struggled to hit fairways, greens and to hole putts but still ground out his second top 10 in his last three events. From a fantasy perspective, it looks that his ankle injury has healed and his mettle remains strong. That’s good news moving forward for those like me who are big Day fans.
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Keegan Bradley: The defending champion had it to eight-under through seven holes on Saturday and was vying for the lead before playing the final 29 holes six-over par. Bradley finished T1 in birdies made for the week but he triple-bogeyed the 11th hole on Saturday and Sunday to stunt his ascension up the leaderboard. Bradley didn’t play poorly; he finished 19th in strokes gained-putting and was T20 GIR. The bad news for gamers is this is his best finish (T24) in his last five events. The good news for gamers is that he’s still making birdies left and right.
Matt Kuchar: The winner at THE PLAYERS last week finished a very solid T15 this week as he was T3 with 18 birdies made. Whereas Bradley hated the 11th hole, hole 14 was Kuchar’s downfall this week as he made double bogey on Friday and Saturday. Kuchar continues his solid play and now has made the cut 19 consecutive times, the longest streak on TOUR.
Gary Woodland: Woodland finished T24 after rushing home with a back-nine 30 on Sunday. Woodland who has struggled this season with injuries and adapting to Butch Harmon’s teachings hit the top 25 for the first time since the season opening HTOC. His putter still hasn’t turned the corner but his iron play was excellent as he was T7 GIR. I’ll take a look at anybody who goes in with 30 on a Sunday the following week.
Adam Scott: The Aussie’s solid play hit a setback this week as he struggled with the long putter and MC. He had 33 puts in round one and 29 more in round two which only allowed him to hole five birdies against his seven bogeys. Scott finished T8 at the Masters and T15 at THE PLAYERS so I wouldn’t read too much into this off week.
Louis Oosthuizen: After his P2 at the Masters and his win in Malaysia, Oosthuizen has MC in his last two starts on TOUR. The normally-reliable ball-striker struggled this week as he made three doubles and a triple to crush any hopes of making the cut. I’ll give Oosthuizen a start or two before jumping back on his bandwagon.