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Dufner tries to hold head high in face of major letdown

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Jason Dufner's stoic demeanor never changed.

Not when he flawlessly built a five-shot lead with four holes to play.

Not when the untimely bogeys suddenly mounted in triplicate. Not when he had to make a clutch par to force the playoff. Not when Keegan Bradley beat him by one in the three-hole showdown.

So Dufner certainly wasn't going to break down over missing, perhaps, the chance of a lifetime to become a major champion.

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"I'm disappointed now, but I think once I get home and get some sleep and head to Greensboro, I'll be over it," said the 34-year-old journeyman. "I know that's hard for you guys to believe, but the show goes on."

For 68 holes, Dufner owned the show at Atlanta Athletic Club. Nobody in the field played as consistently. Nobody else for three rounds had handled the scorching closing four holes better. For a brief moment, nobody was within five shots of him.

Even the bogey he saved after hitting into the water on the 259-yard par-3 15th hole was impressive. He certainly had room to work with.

But the PGA Championship suddenly flipped on him in a perfect storm of missed execution and a competitor's rebound.

While Bradley followed a triple bogey on 15 with dramatic birdies on 16 and 17, Dufner made the two big mistakes of his week on the same two holes. He missed the green on 16 from the middle of the fairway with a 4-iron and made bogey from the bunker. Then he mashed his long birdie putt 12 feet past the hole on 17 and made another bogey to fall into a tie.

"Those are the ones that kind of stick out to me," he said.

He insists the pressure that he'd seemed so immune to for 68 holes wasn't a factor in his stumble.

"I don't feel like I was nervous," he said. "I knew what was at stake. I was confident with my game but just didn't quite execute a couple of shots coming in.

Despite his second-place finish, Dufner can look forward to entries in the 2012 majors and FedEx Cup playoffs. (US Presswire)  
Despite his second-place finish, Dufner can look forward to entries in the 2012 majors and FedEx Cup playoffs. (US Presswire)  
"I wasn't thinking about much. I was thinking about trying to win this thing. They are tough holes. Everybody has struggled on them. Unfortunately I had the lead and I struggled on them. It's a little bit disappointing, 16, being in the middle of the fairway, I should hit that green. Didn't. Probably one of the worst iron shots I hit all week."

In the three-hole playoff that started at 16, Dufner hit one of his best approaches of the week. It skirted the edge of the hole and settled six feet behind the pin. Bradley answered by hitting his approach to four feet.

Dufner slightly pulled his putt and missed. Bradley made birdie and for the first time the Auburn guy was playing catch-up.

"Maybe there was a little pressure he put on me, I guess," Dufner admitted. "We are both in a situation that we both know that we need to make those putts to win these tournaments."

After making a nearly identical bogey on 17 as the one he made in regulation, even a birdie on 18 couldn't save Dufner. He tipped his cap to Bradley for beating him as much as he beat himself. He walked away with the consolation prize of perhaps supplanting Charles Barkley as the most famous golfer from Auburn.

The one thing he promises not to do is beat himself up over his blown chance at major glory. The former walk-on at Auburn looked ahead to next week in Greensboro and the FedEx Cup playoffs beyond that and the majors next year that his runner-up finish secured him berths into.

"I'm not a history buff as far as golf goes," he said. "I know the media tries to define careers on certain players -- you did this, and you didn't do this. I'm not into that. I just play golf. I love playing golf. I love the competition. And I want to be as good as I can be. If that's 20th in the world with no majors, or first in the world with 10 majors, or never to win a tour event, I'll be fine with it.

"You know, coming from where I came from, to be in this position, it's a dream come true. I could never have imagined playing in major championships, playing with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. That's a milestone to me itself. I'm not going to let this define my career. I have a lot of things ahead of me. I'm young. Not as young as Keegan is, but I have a lot of time to play golf and hopefully I'll have more time to win majors and use what happened today as a positive."

History is littered with players who had one shot at immortality and came up short. For a guy like Dufner, the present is no time to dwell on failure.

"You know, maybe looking back 10, 15 years from now, I'll feel disappointment that I let this one get away if I never get another chance," he said. "But, I've got a feeling that I'm going to have some chances to win some majors and some other golf tournaments to close one out."

Scott Michaux is the sports columnist and golf writer for The Augusta Chronicle and augusta.com.

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