by Jeff Skinner
I feel sorry for all those so-called golf fans that stopped watching The PGA Championship when Tiger Woods missed the cut. I feel a bit sad for those poor guys that switched channels when Jason Dufner’s lead went to five strokes with four holes to play. The PGA had all the excitement you could stand and then some. It turned out to be a classic with a heart pounding, historic finish. With apologies to The Masters, The U.S. Open and the Open Championship, this was the most exciting major of the year.
The pair of relative unknowns put on a show that kept us on the edge of our seat while holding our breath and fist pumping right down to end. Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner played great golf and gave us more ups and downs than Dow Jones.
We watched Dufner cruise around the course, expressionless, hitting fairways and greens with relative ease. His expression remained unchanged all day. He was so laid back he looked like Retief Goosen on Valium. He was four under par for the day, eleven under for the tournament with a five stroke lead when he teed off on the treacherous 15th. He sprayed it right into the pond but salvaged a bogey and as the field faded he still had a four stroke after the fifteenth. But bogeys at sixteen and seventeen dropped him to eight under par.
His main competition up to that point was Keegan Bradley but Bradley had his own meltdown at the fifteenth with an excruciating triple bogey that left him five strokes back. As he walked to the sixteenth tee his future looked dim, to everyone but him. Using the determination he showed in the third round when he bounced back from an opening double bogey, he moved to the sixteenth and promptly birdied that one to get back to seven under.
Bradley knew he needed a birdie or two to get back in it and on the seventeenth green he dropped a monster birdie putt that got him back in the hunt. Bradley let loose with a double fist pump and a yell that told everyone that he was back in it, including Dufner who was watching from the tee after just bogeying.
Bradley was off to eighteen and his two putt par left him at eight under par and with a ton of momentum. Dufner painfully three putted seventeen for bogey and had now lost three strokes over three holes. His lead had disappeared as did any sense that he could break out of his finishing funk. He managed a two putt par on eighteen and faced a three hole playoff with Bradley.
The playoff began as you would expect: fairways and greens with short putts. Bradley sank his birdie and Dufner took par. Still no change in Dufner’s expression. On the seventeenth Bradley made par but Dufner three putted for bogey and it essentially was over then. Both hit the fairway on eighteen, of course, and the green. Dufner did grab a little redemption when he drained his long birdie putt but Bradley made an easy two putt and the PGA was his.
These two players hit more fairways and greens than anyone else in the tournament with Dufner leading Bradley in both. They played championship level golf but it was easy to tell them apart. Bradley was emotional and demonstrative all day. The second the ball left his club you knew if it was good or bad. He smiled and grimaced his way around the course all day. Dufner had the same look on his face all afternoon, even after the playoff. He looked calm and unmoved by anything that went on around him. He had the same expression when he birdied as when he rinsed it at fifteen.
Dufner isn’t looking at this as a dramatic loss but rather sees the positive aspects. This is the second playoff he was in this season as he lost to Mark Wilson at The Waste Management Open. He is playing the best golf of his career and for 68 holes he led the best golfers in the world. He’s looking forward to the FedEx Cup Playoffs and maybe breaking that playoff habit with a win.
To say Bradley is having a good year is a bit of an understatement. The 25 year old rookie just nabbed his second career win , first major championship, pocketed a check for $1,445,000, earned exemptions until he’s thirty, sewed up Rookie of the Year and is living his dream come true. That’s not a bad first season for a ex-skier that went to that powerhouse of golf St. Johns in Queens. Bradley looks to be as likable a guy as you could ask for.
Bradley and Dufner may not be the biggest names in golf but today was their day. It was their time to show what they are made of and we all were impressed. They played great golf and gave us an electrifying tournament. It was a heck of a lot of fun watching them.