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PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Jason Dufner flirts with 62, settles for PGA lead

Jason Dufner finishes up at the 18th hole for a 63, tying the lowest round ever shot in a major championship.
Jason Dufner finishes up at the 18th hole for a 63, tying the lowest round ever shot in a major championship.Jeff Haynes/REUTERS

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Once the rain stopped Friday, there was little Oak Hill Country Club could do to prevent a low-scoring assault on golf’s record books. No wind, ideal temperature, plus a good summer soaking made for perfect scoring conditions and rendered the soft course nearly defenseless.

Begin the target practice. First the course record, at a place that hosted its first professional tournament in 1941? Matched in the morning, lowered in the afternoon. Then the PGA Championship record for the lowest opening 36 holes? Tied.

Jason Dufner was stalking bigger prey, though. As he stood over a birdie putt at Oak Hill’s 18th hole Friday, he was 15 feet from shooting 62, a score that had never been recorded in the history of golf’s major championships.

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Dufner, emotionless and stoic, studied the uphill, slightly left-to-right putt. Makeable, for sure, but this was for something nobody in golf had ever done. Even with a pinch of dip tucked in his lip, Dufner’s mouth likely turned dry.

Dufner brought the putter back, then through. When he finally looked up, he saw his ball stop short of the hole. Well short, actually. Dufner settled for a 7-under-par 63, making him the latest in a group of 24 players who have combined for 26 rounds of 63 at either the Masters, US Open, British Open, or PGA.

It also gave Dufner a two-shot lead halfway through the 95th PGA Championship. Looking to win his first major championship, Dufner leads Adam Scott (68), Matt Kuchar (66), and Jim Furyk (68), all at 7 under. His two-round total of 131 (9 under par) equals the PGA Championship record, done four times previously.

“To join history, to shoot a 63 in a major . . . pretty unbelievable, and to be leading the tournament, even better,” Dufner said. “Hopefully it will propel me to a great weekend.”

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And the putt for 62?

“You couldn’t have a better putt for a chance at history on the last hole, but I just didn’t quite hit it hard enough,” Dufner said. “Probably the worst putt I hit of the day, which is a little disappointing.

“But all in all, it’s a 63, and [my] name on top of the leaderboard, so that’s a great position to be playing from.”

Dufner wasn’t the only one to flirt with history. Webb Simpson shot 64 in the morning, which briefly allowed him to join Ben Hogan (1942 Times Union Open) and Curtis Strange (1989 US Open) as holders of the competitive course record. K.J. Choi bogeyed the 17th hole in the afternoon and shot 65. There were three 66s and four 67s on a day that saw 33 more scores under 70, after 35 under-par efforts Thursday.

“It’s hot, the ball is flying, and it’s soft. You can really be aggressive,” said Tiger Woods, who failed to take advantage and shot 70, which has him 10 shots behind Dufner. “If you put the ball in the right spots, the golf course certainly could be had today.”

Those playing in the early-late part of the draw (morning Thursday, afternoon Friday) definitely caught a break. Thursday’s play was halted for 70 minutes in the afternoon because of bad weather, and those same players were greeted by more rain, heavy at times, on Friday morning. Play continued, despite the downpour.

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Six of the top eight players on the leaderboard — Dufner, Kuchar, Furyk, Henrik Stenson (66), Robert Garrigus (68), and Steve Stricker (67) — were part of the early/late wave. Two others — a pair of 2013 major champions, Scott and Justin Rose (66, highlighted by a 29 on the front nine) — managed to make the most of the conditions while being delayed Thursday, then playing in Friday’s rain.

Scott held the lead for the first half of the day, getting to 8 under three times before giving shots back at the 17th, third, and seventh holes. Two shots back with two rounds to play, he likes his position.

“It’s easy to see recently that protecting a lead in a major is difficult. Not many people have done it successfully,” said Scott, who lost a lead at the 2012 British, then came from a shot back on the final day to win this year’s Masters. “Starting a couple back is a nice place to be, because the pressure is off.”

Instead, it’ll be squarely on Dufner. This marks the third straight year that Dufner has taken a lead into the weekend at a major. He shared the lead after both the second, third, and fourth rounds of the 2011 PGA (losing in a playoff to Keegan Bradley), and was up by one shot after two rounds at the 2012 Masters (when he tied for 24th).

Dufner started Friday with a bang, holing a wedge from 105 yards at the par-4 second hole for an eagle, spinning the ball back some 20 feet. He even gave a series of fist pumps after the ball disappeared, about as demonstative as he gets.

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He added birdies at Nos. 4, 5, 11, 13, and 16, leaving him in need of one more birdie on either of the final two holes to shoot 62. A birdie bid on No. 17 burned the left edge; the try at the 18th never stood a chance.

Dufner’s shot at making history finished about 10 inches short of the hole. But he’s holding out hope that two more solid rounds will give him another chance.

“What’s happened in the past with me in majors, still trying to chase it, still trying to learn from the mistakes I made,” Dufner said. “I’m excited that I’m in the lead and looking forward to a good weekend and maybe closing one of these out.”


Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.