PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Against the inspired play of Jason Dufner, par was a sitting duck. Par, and Oak Hill Country Club for that matter, had the look of someone sitting motionless with a lifeless distant gaze. Only Dufner and his historic round could make such noble institutions look as if they were Dufnering.
His 7-under-par 63 in the second round of the PGA Championship tied the best score ever at a major championship. It also broke a course record held by three people, including Ben Hogan, and gave Dufner a two-stroke lead at 9 under. On top of all that — and possibly exceeding all that — it actually got him excited.
He generally shows about as much emotion as a pile of grass clippings, but his motor was running about the chance to shoot the first 62 in a major. Dufner got nervous and he left his 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole about a foot short.
“It’s tough when you’re chasing history,” he said. “You would be the first one to do something. I don’t think I’ve been the first to do anything in my life. So it was a little nerve wracking for a Friday. It’s usually the pressure you might feel toward the end of the tournament. But I got through it. I made a couple of pars. I wish I had that putt on the last hole back again.”
There will be other chances in an event that sure is not shaping up the way most people had foreseen. The setup had been classic: Tiger Woods coming off a decisive win last week and Phil Mickelson was coming off a victory at the British Open. But those two titans are 1- and 2-over par, respectively. They were unable to join the scoring spree that has Masters champion Adam Scott at 7 under, along with Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk, with U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson at 6 under.
“I thought today was a great day for players who are playing well to separate themselves,” Mickelson said of a course that was pelted by rain, keeping the fairways and greens soft. The latter condition allowed Dufner’s 105-yard wedge shot on the second hole to land 30 feet past the flagstick, check up and roll back into the hole for an eagle 2.
Dufner overcame a poor drive on No. 7 and sank a 40-foot birdie putt. “When you do that type of stuff, you know the day is going to be pretty special,” said the man who topped the course record shared by Hogan, Curtis Strange and Webb Simpson (the latter doing it Friday morning).
On demand, during a television interview after the round, Dufner did briefly crack a smile. That played into his flat-line image, burnished by a widely viewed photo of him sitting among students at the Salesmanship Youth and Family Center in Dallas. Dufner sat on the floor with legs outstretched, hands at his side and a staggeringly blank stare on his face. The pose instantly took on a title: Dufnering.
He insisted Friday that, internally, he is “probably like anybody else. You are trying to be out here winning a tournament, trying to hit good shots. There are some nerves out there.”
To be sure, nerves burdened him when he lost a five-shot lead to Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA.
On Friday, even his pursuers — Kuchar and Furyk specifically — said that they were rooting for Dufner to make history.
“It would have been pretty cool to see a 62 posted,” Kuchar said. That would have been about as rare as seeing Dufner get demonstrative.
“I think he would make for a pretty good poker player,” Kuchar said. “He certainly makes for a good golfer.”