Jason Dufner and the PGA Championship are a perfect match. The fourth and final major, which has an unwarranted reputation as the least prestigious, is the ugly but convenient and necessary event to bring up the rear of the majors season and round things off behind the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.
Dufner is always being caricatured -- for his pulseless demeanor on the course, his pulseless demeanor off the course in interviews or via "Dufnering," his fat lip full of Copenhagen, his mop of hair, his paunch, his association with and choosing to root for Auburn and Cleveland sports teams, and for pretty much being everything aesthetically the opposite of Masters champ Adam Scott. He's the perfect bookend to the 2013 major championship season, which was about as good a non-Tiger winning year as we will ever have.
While Tiger and Phil (and much of the TV audience) went away early on Sunday before the leaders ever got to the course, Dufner, already one of America's best golfers, put on a final round stripe show that we rarely see at Oak Hill. Even with the two meaningless bogeys to finish up, it was the lowest Sunday round ever in a major championship at that historic Rochester venue, which has names like Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Curtis Strange on its champions roll.
Dufner and his playing partner, Jim Furyk, are known as two of the best ball strikers in the game -- they keep it in between the trees from tee-to-green, avoiding the wildness and adventures that so often plague Phil and Tiger. And the Duf demonstrated that ball-striking and those pure irons by putting on a Sunday stripe show. Over the final 18 holes, the ball rarely went wild off the fairway and it never left the pin, as Dufner backed up that Friday majors scoring record round of 63 with two more dialed-in approach shots to within a foot of the cup. The holed-out eagle from the fairway on No. 2 on Friday is what propelled him to that scoring record, and he nearly replicated that again on Sunday at No. 8 and No. 16.
There have been and will be plenty more equal, but it does not and cannot get any better than Dufner's work with irons on Sunday at a major.
His facial nerves don't seem to work on the course, but he was certainly tense up on the greens and gripping his putter a little tighter. It was at this event two years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club where Dufner gave away a five-shot lead in four holes, eventually losing in a playoff to good friend Keegan Bradley. Dufner also admitted on Friday after his record round that he was feeling the nerves on the final two holes, where he missed two very good chances at birdie to break the record, and was shaky over two gimme chances to save pars and match the record. Fortunately, his irons and approach shots were always in the center or on the flag, so he rarely had to rely on the putter to save par.
The visceral reaction will always be more about the caricature of Dufner's look and flatline pulse. As he rolled through Sunday afternoon as the likely winner, and then finished it off early Sunday evening, the tweets about his appearance started to come in -- it's impossible not to comment on it.
Doesn't quite have the profile of Tiger, but current PGA leader was once cover boy for East Alabama Living magazine pic.twitter.com/ZOG5F0tnzF— Brendan (@BrendanPorath) August 11, 2013
Guy that carries a backpack full of Copenhagen is about to win the PGA. #WDE— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) August 11, 2013
You know what copenhagen spit sounds like when it pings off the inside of sterling silver? Well, youre fixin to ... #wanamaker— Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) August 11, 2013
Adam Scott is the person every man sees in his mind when he imagines his life as a movie. Jason Dufner is what we see looking in the mirror.— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) August 10, 2013
Your 2013 PGA Championship winner - pic.twitter.com/J2hU0aApGh— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) August 11, 2013
The comments on Dufner, whether it was on Twitter or TV, were less about his game and success over the past three seasons, and more about him being an Auburn man with a tobacco habit and disheveled appearance.
But now he's been a meme and a major winner. And, based on the last two years and this last week, he's the best American golfer not named Tiger or Phil -- the perfect match for the game's least glamorous major.