Jason Dufner showed more about his game in winning the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide June 4 than he had in any of his four previous PGA TOUR wins, overcoming a third-round stumble that resulted in a nine-stroke swing that seemed to sink his chances to capture a victory in his home state.
But he never gave up. It’s a theme for the Memorial Tournament.
After setting the 36-hole Tournament record at 14 under with a pair of 65s and opening a five-stroke lead – Dufner found himself trailing by four shots with 18 holes to play after stumbling to a third-round 77. But the Cleveland native bounced back to calmly fire a 4-under-par 68 and win the Memorial by three strokes.
And he finished impressively to do it, playing the last four holes in 2 under par, including a 3-foot birdie on the par-4 17th when the green was as receptive as a frying pan and a 40-foot par save at 18 after the second of two brief weather delays.
“I always take a lot of pride in kind of being a fighter, trying to come back,” said Dufner, 40, who joined Tournament Founder and Host Jack Nicklaus as the only Ohio natives to win at Muirfield Village Golf Club. ‘[Saturday] was not my best day," Dufner said of his messy 77 that was diametrically opposite of his precision game the first 36 holes. “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."
Always one of the game’s finer tee-to-green ball strikers, Dufner won by pairing his shot making skills to putting that was better than average – thanks to a new breathing routine that has made him more consistent. A resident of Auburn, Ala., Dufner led the field in Strokes Gained-Approach the Green, hitting 54 greens in regulation. He ranked 10th off the tee. He was 47th in putting, though in putting per greens in regulation he ranked first. And it was there when he capped a flawless back-nine 32 with a 33-foot par save on 18 to make sure no one could catch him.
“You know, a lot of times for me the ball-striking is what I have to do well, and that's kind of what I did on the back nine,” said Dufner, who early in his career didn’t perform well at Muirfield Village, but learned to like it during the Presidents Cup 2013. “I hit three or four shots that I almost couldn't miss them, even though I tried on 17. Then to make par on 18 was really special. Obviously, knowing that I need to make bogey at worst to have a chance, but to make a 35-footer on the last hole, I did that a couple of years ago in Dallas to win, too.”
“To see him make that putt on the last was cool,” said Rickie Fowler, who ended up with a 70 and shared second place with Anirban Lahiri at 10-under 278 after the native of India fired an early 65 and watched the carnage unfold.
Dufner became the first player since Sir Nick Faldo, analyzing the action all week for CBS Sports, to shoot 77 or higher in the third round of a tournament and go on to win. Faldo did it in the 1989 Masters after carding a 77. Only Kenny Knox shot a higher third-round score in a non-major and won, carding an 80 in the 1986 Honda Classic.
“I hope it's the start of some big things for this year and going forward. I've had a pretty good year this year,” he said. “I've been really consistent, a lot of top-25s and a lot of made cuts. I know that doesn't sound flashy and great. But I felt like I played pretty well every week this year. It was a matter of time at some point some things were going to happen for me to be able to win.”
Dufner wasn’t the only winner during a week of great golf and mostly incredible weather in Central Ohio. As always, there were many things to celebrate, from recognizing brave members of the U.S. military to the traditional Honoree Ceremony that celebrated the career of Greg Norman and three golfers who were honored posthumously: Tony Lema, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward.
Most importantly, perhaps, the Tournament took time out to honor and celebrate courageous young people who are patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as part of the Memorial’s Patient Champion Program.
Even before the first official shot of the Tournament, those youngsters and their families were treated to a full morning of VIP Tournament experiences during Wednesday’s Nationwide Invitational at the Memorial, the Tournament’s official Pro-Am
The Patient Champions received personalized caddie bibs to wear on the golf course and enjoyed behind-the-scenes activities, including meet-and-greets on the 1st and 10th hole tee boxes with former NFL quarterback and Nationwide spokesperson Peyton Manning and PGA TOUR players participating in the Pro-Am, a visit to the 18th hole leaderboard, and a famous Muirfield Village Golf Club milkshake. To finish the day, each Patient Champion has the opportunity to tend the flag on the 18th green for Pro-Am teams finishing the hole.
To conclude the Patient Champion Program, 2017 Nicklaus Youth Spirit Award recipient Makya Marvi was joined by 2016 winner of the award Kyle Mitchell, as they both accompanied Manning while he played the 18th hole.
That was a lot of winning for one week, a lot of great comeback stories to share.