Armed with sniper research, Dufner leads at Memorial

DUBLIN, Ohio -- It's an old ploy used to get your opponent off his game while playing for that friendly wager.

Ask if he inhales or exhales while taking his backswing, and see the face contort and the ball go in every different direction.

Who thinks about such things?

Well, Jason Dufner does. And it's working.

The 2013 PGA Championship winner has shot consecutive 65s at Muirfield Village Golf Club, setting a Memorial Tournament record and opening up a comfortable lead through two rounds. Dufner is 5 shots ahead of Daniel Summerhays.

Dufner attributes a breathing technique he started using while putting that should see weekend warriors everywhere holding their breath when attempting to putt.

"I've been working on my breathing a lot, to be honest with you,'' Dufner said. "Pre-shot routine. Trying to get control of my breathing. Trying to get the pace of my stroke the way I want it with my breathing.

"When I feel like I'm comfortable before I hit the putt, I feel like I make a better stroke. Usually when I go right, it's a setup thing, kind of where am (I) in space oriented to the ball. Seems like it's simple, but guys get off, too far away, too close, ball too forward, too far back. So I've been working on simple things like setup and breathing; [that] has been big for me.''

Whatever works.

Dufner, 40, needed to find something. The four-time winner on the PGA Tour has always been regarded as a strong ball striker, with success coming when he managed to hole a few putts.

And for Dufner, he needed to do something about his putting.

In 2016 Dufner ranked 158th on the PGA Tour in total putts per round (29.59) and 164th in strokes gained putting (minus-.353). In most of the myriad ways the tour tracks putting, Dufner was average at best.

Anecdotally, there were numerous occasions when he could be seen flailing over a putt.

A good example came during his 2013 PGA Championship victory, when he shot a second-round 63 to tie the lowest scoring in major championship history. If a guy could look shaky in shooting such a score, it was Dufner, who had a 12-footer on the last green that day at Oak Hill Country Club to shoot the all-time major record of 62.

He left it woefully short.

Dufner said a friend sent him an article that helped his putting situation. In the article, a doctor discussed his research related to snipers in the Marines and how they breathed. Dufner started the process last year and has refined it throughout this season.

"It just talked about how they really focus on their breathing,'' Dufner said.

"I think the one thing that also helps is it gives me something to think about other than my stroke or holing this putt or the situation I'm in,'' Dufner said. "Subconsciously I'm just putting, but I'm more focused on my breathing and where I'm at with that.''

Adam Scott, who shot 66 on Friday, said he also uses breathing techniques simply to rid himself of tension over shots.

"It's good for staying calm,'' he said. "It doesn't look like Duf needs to stay much calmer than he normally is; we might have to check his pulse soon.''

Here's how it works for Dufner:

"As soon as I'm done breathing is when I go. As soon as when it comes out at the end, is when I go. And then I have a count, one, two, kind of pace I've been working on. A little something different.''

Of course, there's far more to golf at this level than putting, and Dufner has used the other 13 clubs quite well. After hitting his first 17 greens in regulation on Thursday, he made his only bogey at the 18th hole.

On Friday, he played the back nine first and got his revenge on the 18th by holing a 6-iron second shot from 176 yards for an eagle. He hit 14 greens in regulation and didn't make a bogey to set the 36-hole tournament scoring record of 130.

"Pretty impressive,'' said Matt Kuchar, who is 9 strokes back. "If you're playing well, there are birdie opportunities. You get inside 10 feet and it feels Augusta-ish; a lot of times you've got a 10-footer with 3 or 4 feet of break. It's just challenging to make those, even though you know you've hit two good shots and have a great birdie look.

"When you have a putt with that much break or speed, it doesn't feel like you're going to make that many of them. And clearly Dufner is making them at this point.''