Defiant Jason Dufner Triumphs at the Memorial

By: | Mon 05 Jun 2017 | Comments

Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements

SO, it turns out that Jason Dufner does care after all. The man who never displays any emotion showed the world that it does matter to him after he holed a 32-foot putt on the final green to win the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village by three shots. Dufner doesn't do fist pumps, but he produced one of rare intensity before walking from the green to shake hands with tournament host Jack Nicklaus.

The 40-year-old American set the 36-hole scoring record for the tournament when he opened with a pair of 65s to establish a five-shot lead, but then the wheels came off in spectacular fashion in round three as he shot a 77 that appeared to end both his chances and his interest in the tournament. But he gave himself a good talking to ahead of the final round, and reminded himself that he was still only four behind Daniel Summerhays, a man not used to being in such a lofty position.

In the end, Dufner played his best golf on the back nine, and kept his composure during two rain delays, to close with a 4-under 68 and win by three shots.

"Yesterday was not my best day," Dufner said of his 77. "But I had to get over it quick. It's a 72-hole tournament, there's a lot of things that can happen out there. I knew I was still in the mix."

Dufner finished at 13-under 275 for his fifth PGA TOUR victory, and he joined Nicklaus as the only Ohio-born winners of the Memorial.

Rickie Fowler came to the 18th requiring a birdie to force a playoff but instead dropped a shot and had to settle for a tie for second with  India's Anirban Lahiri, who closed with a 65.

Justin Thomas missed consecutive short birdie putts that stopped any momentum he had. Matt Kuchar fell back with three bogeys on the back nine. They finished another shot behind. Summerhays, who began the final round with a three-shot lead, began the back nine with two straight bogeys, and he finished with a double bogey for a 78 to tie for 10th.

Dufner found himself back in the mix as a struggling Summerhays lost his three-shot lead after four holes. Over the next five hours, four players had at least a share of the lead. 

Dufner who had just one bogey in his first two rounds, had one stretch on the front nine of bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey. He played the front nine in even par. On the second nine he rediscovered the form that had seen take control of this tournament on the opening two days. Not only did he hit every green until the 18th on the back nine, all but one of his birdie chances came from 12 feet or closer.

He out his approach on the 10th to four feet and holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-three 12th. After missing a pair of birdie chances on the 13th and 14th, he hit the par-five15th in two and two-putted for birdie from 40 feet to take the lead.

Fowler fell back when he missed the 14th green long and took bogey, and then hit his fairway wood into the gallery on the 15th and failed to make birdie. Dufner gave himself a cushion on the 17th with his best drive of the day and a wedge to three feet.

On the 18th Dufner drove into thick rough and was only able to hack his ball into more rough. He put his third shot to just over 30 feet but then drained the putt and slammed his fist downwards in a show of emotion that demonstrated how much this actually meant to him.

“I'm pumped to be in the mix again," Dufner said. "It's been a good year so far, but this has made it nice.”

European Tour

Renato Paratore won his first European Tour title as he held off the challenge of Chris Wood and defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick to claim the Nordea Masters at the splendid Barseback Golf and Country Club in Sweden.

The Italian entered the final day a shot behind Wood and battled hard for a 70 and an 11-under-par total that left Wood needing a par on the last to set up a playoff. Wood drove into the trees and recorded a bogey as 20-year-old Paratore became the youngest winner on Tour since countryman Matteo Manassero won the BMW PGA Championship.

Fitzpatrick had birdied the last to sign for a 68 and set the target at ten under on a rainy day in Malmo. The Sheffield golfer, who now heads off to play in the US Open, will be disappointed not to have won, but will be delighted to have rediscovered some form.

South African George Coetzee and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen finished at nine under par, a shot clear of Frenchman Matthieu Pavon.

Paratore's victory moves him into the top 150 in the world rankings, and it surely won't be long before he establishes himself in the all-important top 50.

Coetzee, a man in desperate need of a big week, had started the day seven shots off the lead but set the course record with a 66 containing nine birdies, the last of which was a stunning chip-in on the 15th. He held the lead as the final group started the back nine and at one point there was a five-way tie for the lead involving Coetzee, Jamie Donaldson, Olesen, Wood and Paratore.

Wood and Paratore put daylight between themselves and the rest after both men had started poorly. Wood had made bogeys on the first, third and seventh but birdied the sixth and ninth to turn in 37 before a six-footer on the tenth took him into a share of the lead.

Both men birdied the par-five 12th before Paratore edged ahead again with a 25-foot putt on the 14th.

An excellent approach to the 16th moved Wood back into a share of the lead while Paratore made important par putts on the 16th and 17th. Another good par save followed on the last and when Wood had to take a drop after sending his final tee-shot into the trees, Paratore had secured his maiden victory.

He was thrilled. “I feel really great. The first win, I will remember this my entire life. Also to be here at a nice tournament like this with this crowd has been really good," Paratore said. “It feels amazing to be in the winner’s circle with Italians like the Molinaris, Manassero and Rocca.

“It was a little bit stressful for me at the end. Chris is a really solid player so I was expecting a play-off. Then when he made a bogey I was a little bit less stressed!

“Today I really had to keep a good attitude because I didn’t play well. But the short game helped me a lot today. On the last three holes I had three good pars without hitting the ball very well.

“The tee shots were not easy, I wasn’t hitting very well from the tee. But then I was putting and chipping well, so it was good.”

Fitzpatrick was positive in defeat. "This is the best I’ve played in quite a while. I was hitting it nicely tee to green and I managed to make the putts as well. I managed to battle back, and I’m delighted with the way I gave myself chances and took them."

Wood was not happy with the way he finished. “That round probably summarised how I felt my game was this week," he said. "It was a little bit scrappy with some really good stuff in there as well. All week I feel like I’ve been fighting my swing and probably surprised myself with a lot of the good shots I hit this week. Your flaws come out when you’re under pressure.

“It’s obviously disappointing, but I’m sure after a couple of days I’ll think, well it’s some points on the board and should nudge me back into the US Open, and that’s what I came here to do really.

“Overall we’ve had a great week, but it’s hard when you can’t close it out. We all hit bad shots but considering my start I battled away like I always do, but yeah it’s quite hard to take.”

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