ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- If a guy could look shaky shooting 63, Jason Dufner is your man. There he was Friday at Oak Hill Country Club, on the cusp of major championship history, and he leaves his putt for 62 -- never before shot in one of the four biggest tournaments – woefully short.
The collective sigh could be heard all across Western New York, his birdie putt on the treacherous hole a reasonable 12 feet away from the cup. Not a gimme by any means, but certainly a putt that a proficient pro -- or, frankly, most amateurs -- has to think is going in. Dufner's putt didn't even sniff the cup, and when he nearly botched the 2-foot tap-in, the one that gave him a course-record 63, you wondered if the enormity of it all was getting to him. But then, it is important to remember it is Dufner we are talking about. The man sleepwalks through rounds of golf, has a pulse rate doctors struggle to even find, always looks like he's in search of a couch.
That man made #dufnering a Twitter phenomena. But 63 is 63, and, in a major championship, that is impressive.
"You couldn't have a better putt for a chance at history on the last hole,'' Dufner said. "But I just didn't quite hit it hard enough.''
More important, it put Dufner in position to win the PGA Championship, a tournament he let get away two years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club, at which he had a five-shot lead on the back nine, only to squander it and lose to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. He takes a two-shot lead over Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk into the weekend.
All ribbing aside, while making that putt for 62 would have been incredible, blowing it past the hole and then missing the come-back putt would have been horrible. The idea is to win the tournament, not set records along the way, as many golfers can attest.
And yet …
"There's something about that magical 63 mark to try to surpass,'' said Steve Stricker, who played with Dufner. "It was a lot of fun to see.''
Stricker had the same opportunity two years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club. He had been the last player to shoot 63 in a major and had a birdie putt on the final hole to do so.
But, unlike Dufner, Stricker was unaware of the major possibilities.
"Yeah, I literally didn't even think about the putt that I had on the last to break the mark,'' Stricker said. "I was just so engrossed in what I was doing and shooting the lowest score possible that I really didn't even pay attention to how many under [par] I was and what I was shooting at the time. "So I was able to kind of enjoy Dufner's more than I was able to enjoy mine. But it was tough to see him leave that last putt short. But I can understand that. The greens were a little chewed up this afternoon. Any putt uphill into the grain became difficult because of all the heelprints and the marks on the greens because the greens were so soft from the rain. I wish he would have gotten it to the hole and had a better chance at it.''
As it stands, Dufner's was the 26th score of 63 in a major, accomplished by 24 players starting with Johnny Miller at the 1973 U.S. Open.
"Obviously, the rain, the soft golf course made it scoreable,'' said Dufner, who won twice last season on the PGA Tour and made the U.S. Ryder Cup team. "But to join history, to shoot 63 in a major, pretty unbelievable; and to be leading the tournament, even better. So, hopefully, it will propel me to a great weekend.''
Dufner's round got off to a great start when he holed a sand wedge from 105 yards at the second hole for an eagle. He made a 35-footer for birdie at the fourth, a 12-footer at the fifth, an eight-footer at the 11th, a 10-footer at the 13th and a six-footer at the 16th.
That put him at 7-under for his round, and he gave himself good chances at both the 17th and 18th holes but was unable to convert.
Not that doing so is easy. Like 59 in a regular event – which has occurred just five times on the PGA Tour – breaking that 63 barrier in a major has proven to be a tough task. Tiger Woods had a putt lip out for 62 at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, and several players have had putts for 62 in majors.
Oak Hill has also seemed an unlikely place, a venerable venue that has hosted U.S. Opens and PGAs. In all the previous majors played here, only 10 players total have finished 72 holes comprising a tournament under par.
"Just about any golf course -- I don't care what it is -- if it's soft, guys are going to shoot good numbers,'' Woods said. "It's definitely gettable today. You can be really aggressive, and if you put the ball in the right spots, the golf course certainly could be had today.''
Woods didn't hit it in the right spots and shot 70 to finish 36 holes 10 strokes back of Dufner's lead. A week ago, he flirted with 59 at Firestone Country Club before settling for a career-low-tying round of 61.
Woods has done that four times and shot 63 once in a major. Such brilliance is rare.
"Majors are set up so difficult,'' Dufner said. "It's just hard to shoot a 62. Even on some of the setups we have on tour, you don't see many guys shooting 62 or lower. There are just not that many out there. Being in a major championship, how much pressure there is playing in those, it's just a really difficult thing to do.''
Of the 24 players who have shot 63, only five of them went on to win the tournament: Miller ('63 U.S. Open), Jack Nicklaus ('80 U.S. Open), Greg Norman ('93 Open Championship), Raymond Floyd ('82 PGA) and Woods ('07 PGA).
So as good as that 63 was for Dufner, it guarantees him nothing but a place in the record book for now.
But he would have been all alone with a 62 beside his name if that putt at 18 had been hit a bit better.
"I just didn't commit to it,'' Dufner said. "But I'm pretty happy with a 63.''