PITTSFORD, N.Y. — No Dufnering on this day.
In fact, Jason Dufner actually showed a bit of emotion.
When he spotted his ball in the creek at No. 5, he yanked his driver out of the bag to mark the spot for a drop, then slammed it back in when he was done. After an errant drive at the final hole, he tossed the club away with disdain and stalked off angrily down the fairway.
Yet Dufner managed to hold it together Saturday during a round that could’ve been much worse.
He followed a record-tying 63 with a pedestrian 1-over 71 that nonetheless included some clutch shots down the stretch, allowing him to stay solidly in contention for his first major title.
Dufner will play in the final group Sunday, just one stroke behind Jim Furyk.
“You’re going to hit poor shots. You’re going to get bad breaks,” he said. “You’ve just got to move on past it.”
On a day when Oak Hill finally lived up to its reputation as beast of a course, Dufner started with a two-stroke lead and was poised to be four strokes clear of the field when he stood over a 6-foot birdie try at the par-5 fourth. The putt wouldn’t drop, and things really turned when he teed off at the fifth.
Going with a 3-wood, he looked unsteady over the ball. He reached down a couple of times to fiddle with the tee, all the while hoping the wind would change. When he finally swung, the ball shot out to the right, caught some trees and ricocheted into the hazard that meanders through course. After the drop, all he could do was punch it up near the green. He plopped in on from there and tried to get out with only a bogey, but missed the putt.
“Those are the type of things that can really get you unnerved and unsettled,” Dufner said. “You can make two or three bogeys and … all of a sudden you’re out of the tournament. I was determined that I was going to try to put it behind me by the time I got to the par-3 (sixth). Hit a good shot there and just keep moving forward.”
He didn’t make much of a move forward, but at least he didn’t lose any more ground. There were birdies at the seventh and 10th, sandwiched around a bogey at No. 8, and a whole bunch of pars. Considering the much tougher scoring conditions, not bad at all.
At the final hole, after giving himself a chance to save par, Dufner thought he had missed the short putt. But it curled around the back of the cup and dropped in, assuring he stayed right in Furyk’s rearview mirror and would get to play with him on Sunday.
If the ball had spun out, Henrik Stenson would’ve been in the last group with Furyk.
“I definitely thought I missed it as it went by the hole,” Dufner said. “But gravity kind of took over and it was perfect speed to fall in that back lip.”
Back in April, his casual personality took on a life of its own after a picture emerged of him sitting on the floor of an elementary classroom during a charity event, propped up stiffly against a wall, an empty look in his eyes as the teacher lectured her young students about focus.
The pose became known as “Dufnering,” and the golfer has gladly embraced the notoriety that came with it, even recreating the moment for a photo with Tiger Woods’ girlfriend, Olympic skiing champion Lindsay Vonn.
At the PGA Championship two years ago, Dufner seemed poised to capture his first major title when he stepped to the 15th tee on a Sunday at the Atlanta Athletic Club with a four-stroke lead. He frittered away the advantage and lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.
Now, there a chance for a do-over.
“I was young, new to doing the majors,” Dufner recalled. “Hopefully the experience I’ve had since then will pull me through and give me a chance to win.”