PITTSFORD, N.Y. — The first sign that this would be Jason Dufner’s week might have come on Thursday, when he spotted his wife on the back nine during his first round at Oak Hill Country Club and passed along a handful of acorns. He told Amanda he’d like to grow some oak trees on the couple’s new property where they’re building a house in Auburn, Ala.
Or it might have been Friday, after setting the course record at Oak Hill and becoming the 24th player to shoot 63 in a major championship, a feat that gave Dufner the halfway lead at the 95th PGA Championship.
But maybe, just maybe, it started two years ago, born from heartache at a late lead lost, then a playoff lost, just when he appeared to have one hand on the PGA Championship’s heavy Wanamaker Trophy.
Dufner made sure to get both hands on the thing this time. And for the next 12 months, he doesn’t have to let it go.
He didn’t always look comfortable — or effective — on short putts, but when you hit it as close as Dufner did Sunday, it matters not. With one of the best ball-striking displays of the year, Dufner ended the major championship season by winning his first, shooting a 2-under-par 68 to beat Jim Furyk by two shots.
Dufner, who trailed Furyk by one after three rounds, took the lead for good with a birdie at No. 8, when his approach to the par-4 finished less than a foot away. That was the second such birdie of the day for Dufner: His kick-in at the difficult fifth hole gave him a one-shot lead. Another birdie putt from less than a foot, this one at the 16th hole, preserved Dufner’s two-shot lead, which he maintained until the end, when not even two closing bogeys — his first dropped shots since the eighth hole Saturday — could spoil the celebration.
“For whatever reason today, I felt really comfortable, really calm, and felt like that I could do it,” said Dufner, who finished at 10 under. “Felt like I could give myself a chance and pull this out.
“My name will always be on this trophy, and nobody can take that away from me.”
It even brought Keegan Bradley back to the golf course. Bradley and Dufner, who are constantly poking fun at each other, especially on Twitter, have become close friends ever since they battled each other in that 2011 PGA playoff in Atlanta, with Bradley erasing a five-shot deficit with three holes to play to force extra holes. Bradley sent Dufner a good-luck text Saturday night. With Dufner’s lead in hand on the last few holes, Bradley left his nearby hotel and returned to Oak Hill so he personally could watch his buddy become a major champion.
“Now he’s got a PGA for himself. I’m really proud of him,” said Bradley, who shot 66 Sunday and tied for 19th. “He’s been involved in majors a lot in the last two years. Whenever you see that, I think you see guys break through.”
Said Dufner: “I saw Keegan as I finished up. I just said, ‘Thanks a lot, it means a lot for you to be here.’ You always carry those scars with you, [but] now I’ve got one, too. It’s pretty neat to come back and win a PGA.”
Sunday was Dufner’s time. He tied Furyk with a birdie at the par-5 fourth, took the outright lead at the next hole, and, after Furyk tied him at 10 under when he holed a 30-footer at No. 6, Dufner got it right back with the short birdie at No. 8. It was set up by what Dufner did all day: Drives in the fairway, approach shots close to the hole.
When he missed greens he scrambled, on three occasions using a fairway wood from the fringe; when he needed to two-putt — with the exception of No. 17 — he did. The way Dufner played, it made coming in second easier for Furyk, who shot 71, to take.
“At the end of the [2012 US Open], I felt like I lost the tournament,” Furyk said, referring to the Olympic Club, when he led with three holes to play and lost. “Today, I feel like I got beat. I didn’t beat myself. I felt like I got beat by Jason.”
So did everybody else. The only other person to really be in serious contention during the final round was Henrik Stenson, who drew within two shots when he birdied the 13th hole. But he bogeyed the short 14th, added another bogey on No. 17, and shot 70 for third. His fellow Swede, Jonas Blixt (70), was fourth.
Dufner said that he was excited about winning, but his on-course actions make that hard to tell. He didn’t react much when his final putt went in: A handshake for Furyk, one for his caddie, a kiss for Amanda, and a playful pat on her bum.
If anything, Dufner’s reaction was from someone who fully expected to win one of these major championships one day. Amanda said as much, after admitting how nervous she — but not her husband — was at the start of Sunday’s final round.
“The PGA that Keegan won, I was really, really nervous, and he made the comment to me, ‘There’s no need in you being nervous, because I’m not.’ And I’ve tried to remember that,” Amanda said. “He’s worked his whole life for this. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when.”
For the Dufners, when finally has arrived. Oh, the stories they’ll be able to tell under their oak trees someday.