Nothing was dull about the way Jason Dufner played golf Friday at the PGA Championship. If anything, it was historic.
Dufner holed out from the fairway for eagle, rolled in a putt across the green for par and kept making birdies until he stood 12 feet away from a shot at the lowest score in the 153 years of championship golf. One last birdie attempt didn’t even get to the hole, and Dufner had to settle for a record-tying round of 7-under 63.
“Probably the worst putt I hit of the day, which is a little disappointing,” Dufner said. “But all in all, it’s a 63, and name on top of the leaderboard. So that’s a great position to be playing from.”
It was the third time in the last seven years at the PGA Championship that a player had a putt at becoming the first player to shoot 62 in a major. Tiger Woods circled the hole at Southern Hills in 2007. Steve Stricker narrowly missed at Atlanta Athletic Club two years ago.
Dufner didn’t feel disappointed for long.
On a rain-softened Oak Hill, where pelt-sized divots were flying and birdies were falling, Dufner surged to a two-shot lead over Masters champion Adam Scott, Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar. At 9-under 131, Dufner tied the 36-hole record at the PGA Championship he now shares with six other players.
Warren JFK graduate Jason Kokrak finished at 6-over 146 with rounds of 76 and 72 and missed the cut.
Dufner was alone at the top, and in the company of some big names in history.
His 63 broke the course record at Oak Hill held by Ben Hogan, Curtis Strange and Webb Simpson, who shot 64 about five hours earlier. Dufner became the 24th player to shoot 63 in a major — Greg Norman and Vijay Singh, both in the Hall of Fame, did it twice.
And through it all, he barely cracked a smile.
“He’s very calm,” said Stricker, who played alongside Dufner. “I’m sure he was churning on the inside. He just told me while we were signing our cards, he was like, ‘This is a lot for a Friday.”’
The possibilities were endless on a day that began with three hours of a steady rain until the sun broke through and took all the bite out of Oak Hill.
Simpson also had a chance at 63 until he made a bogey on the 16th hole of his round. U.S. Open champion Justin Rose shot 29 on the front nine to get back into contention. When the second round finally ended, 27 players remained under par — this on a course that is stubborn when it comes to par. In five previous majors at Oak Hill, only nine players have finished the tournament in red numbers. Jack Nicklaus did it twice.
The cut was at 143, the lowest at the PGA Championship since 2001 at Atlanta Athletic Club.
For all the low scores, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were left behind.
Woods couldn’t get anything going, exchanging birdies with bogeys during a poor putting round that led to an even-par 70. He was at 1-over 141 and 10 shots back going into the weekend. Woods went to the range with his swing coach, trying to find answers. He has only one score in the 60s in 14 rounds at the majors this year.
“Obviously, I’m going to have to put together a really good weekend,” Woods said. “This golf course is pretty soft. It’s definitely gettable. Got to hit the ball in play and keep the ball near the hole so I can be aggressive with my putts.”
Mickelson’s swing apparently went missing in the three weeks since he won the British Open. He was all over Oak Hill and still managed a 34 on the back nine until his wild shots caught up with him. Another 71 left him 11 shots out of the lead.
Dufner was in prime position to win the PGA Championship two years ago when he had a four-shot lead with four holes to play, only to be tracked down by Keegan Bradley and then beaten in a playoff. Dufner said that day he would only be disappointed “if I never get another chance.”
And here he is, in record fashion.