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PGA course providing no challenge
The gravitas of the moment overwhelmed Jason Dufner.
“When you’re chasing history, it’s tough,” he would later say.
On the last hole at Oak Hill on a sunny Friday afternoon, Dufner had launched a six-iron from the fairway “and left it in the perfect spot.”
About a dozen feet away lay immortality.
The read was simple: straight in.
All he had to do was hit it.
Dufner left his birdie putt at the PGA Championship a good two feet short, triggering groans throughout this sylvan corner of Rochester.
“The worst putt I hit all day,” he would bemoan.
Many felt sorry for him, others cheated that they were deprived a chance to say they’d seen history made.
But not me.
I’m glad he left that putt short.
And maybe — as a student of the history of the game — he is, too.
Because 62 is a sacred number in major championship golf.
No one has ever shot 62 in a major.
And it shouldn’t have been done today.
Not like this.
There have been 27 rounds of 63 in majors shot by 25 men (Greg Norman and Vijay Singh doing it twice).
Six years ago, I saw Tiger Woods lip out a putt for 62 in the second round of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
If that one fell, it would’ve been OK with me because the next best score that day was a 66.
Southern Hills may not be the toughest of venues but it was primed and ready for the fight.
Oak Hill today wasn’t.
She was overmatched.
Three rain storms washed away her defenses.
One of championship golf’s most venerable courses was helpless as the world’s best players threw darts at the flags with impunity.
It wasn’t a fair fight.
“I was expecting Oak Hill to be a ferocious, elderly place, but it’s like an old lady who’s lost her teeth and is sort of searching for them,” quipped analyst David Feherty.
There have been five majors held at this Donald Ross-designed classic, three US Opens and two PGAs and in all of those, only 10 times has par been broken after four rounds. Nine different men have done it; Jack Nicklaus did it twice.
After two rounds of this PGA there are already 27 players under par.
And they’re not just barely in red numbers.
On Thursday, Adam Scott — who goes into the weekend two shots behind Dufner — had a legitimate shot at 63 before settling for 65. He’s at seven under par after two days.
On Friday, hours before Dufner posted his 63, last year’s US Open champion Webb Simpson went on a tear and was seven under par with three holes to play.
One more birdie and he’d have shot 62.
But he bogeyed the seventh — his 16th hole of the day — to shoot 64, which only tied the competition course record shared by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange.
And even that feat should’ve carried an asterisk.
Later in the day, KJ Choi, who’d opened on Thursday with a six-over-par 76, feasted on the soft conditions on Friday and was also on 62 watch at six under par through 14 holes.
He ultimately bogeyed the 17th and settled for a 65.
Justin Rose, meanwhile, shot 29 on his second nine of the day.
“When it’s soft like this,” said Dufner, “You can be more in attack mode, so to speak.”
“You can be very, very aggressive from the fairways.”
It was more like the Greater Rochester Classic than a major to everyone, it seemed, except Woods.
Once again Woods suffered from stage fright at a major.
He was in the afternoon wave that missed the morning rain. It should’ve been like shooting fish in a barrel.
Woods had to have known he needed something in the mid-60s to give himself a legitimate shot going into the weekend.
But, as he has since that Sunday four years ago in Minnesota, when YE Yang shocked him in the PGA, Woods sputtered.
He shot an even-par round of 70 — four birdies to go with four bogeys — and was left at one over through two rounds, in a tie for 38th, 10 strokes behind Dufner.
He started his day by missing fairways and finished by missing putts.
Thirty two putts was among the worst in the field on Friday. His low point came on the par-4 14th, which he drove from the tee only to three putt for par.
“I didn’t have that many looks (at birdie),” he conceded.
“When I did, I missed my share, too.”
As always with Woods, there was no waving white flags.
“Obviously, I’m going to have to have to put together a really good weekend,” he said.
“This golf course is pretty soft. It’s definitely gettable.”
And that is the rub.
It’s too gettable for a major.