PITTSFORD — Jason Dufner took an eraser to the names of Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange on Friday during a record-setting second round of the 95th PGA Championship.
Dufner’s 7-under-par 63 set a competitive course record on Oak Hill Country Club’s fabled East Course. It also matched the low round in major championship history, accomplished by 24 different players on 26 occasions.
A 12-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th hole for a 62 and the record all his own came up 18 inches short, but Dufner tapped that in and enjoys a two-shot lead at the halfway point of the season’s final major. He’s at 9-under 131 for the tournament, tying the 36-hole record in a PGA Championship set six other times.
The record books required plenty of whiteout Friday, as birdies were flying at a dizzying pace on an East Course softened substantially by rain.
The previous low 36-hole score in five majors at Oak Hill was 5-under, held by Bert Yancey in the 1968 U.S. Open and Strange in the ’89 Open. Six players bettered that number this week.
“When conditions are good, great players find a way. Someone finds a way to shoot a low number,” said Jim Furyk, who’s part of a three-way tie for second place at 7-under 133. “Today it happened, it was a bunch of guys, but Jason fired the best one.”
Dufner’s round got going when he holed out for an eagle on the par-4 second, hitting a sand wedge from 105 yards. He followed that up with a birdie on the fourth hole when his putt from 35 feet dropped in, then made a 12-footer on the fifth to go 4-under through five. He made three birdies on the back nine and did not record a bogey in his round.
“In my head, I was just trying to get further and further away from the field, trying to make birdies,” he said.
The world’s top players had the same game plan – often times executing it with success. Playing at 7,132 yards Friday, Oak Hill is not long by professional standards. Its protection comes from ankle-deep rough and firm, fast greens. Both were mitigated, however, by another inch of rain Friday morning. That allowed players to hit driver off the tee without fear of it running out into the rough, and gave them the green light to throw darts at the spongy greens.
“A guy playing really well here, hitting a lot of fairways, you can find yourself hitting a lot of middle and short irons into holes,” said Matt Kuchar, who was one of those guys with a second-round 66. “If you are hot and taking advantage of those holes, you’ve got a chance really post a good number.”
One of the best Friday belonged to 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who joined Hogan and Strange as members of the 64 Club early in the day before Dufner broke the record about five hours later.
Kuchar missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole for his first bogey of the championship to drop him into the tie for second with first-round co-leaders Adam Scott and Furyk.
Scott shot a round of 2-under 68 despite playing through heavy rain for most of the morning.
When he curled in a 40-foot left-to-right birdie putt on the par-4 second hole, he raised the index finger on his right hand in celebration. Fitting, because with a golf swing that looks like it was engineered in a lab, he very much looks like a player challenging to be No. 1 in the world following his Masters victory in April.
“I was hungry before the Masters and I might even have a bigger appetite after it,” Scott said. “I feel like this is my time to get everything I want out of my career, and I’m going to keep pushing until I do. My game is in great shape. I’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Justin Rose, who played with Scott and Phil Mickelson the first two rounds in the PGA’s traditional grouping of the season’s first three major winners, carded a 29 on the front nine Friday to close his second round after starting on the 10th tee. That was just one shot off the low nine-hole score in PGA Championship history. Rose finished with a 4-under 66 to reach 6-under 134 for the tournament, in a tie for fifth place with Henrik Stenson, three behind Dufner.
“The rain stopped. That was pretty much it,” Rose explained of his closing run. “Fresh glove, took the rain paints off and began to feel like you could get after the golf course.”
Rose and Scott both look like players who have burdens lifted off of them after their major victories this season.
“It’s wonderful to be in this situation right now, talking about having done it; talking about feeling like you can win more,” said Rose, who won the U.S. Open at Merion in June. “I feel grateful to have the monkey off my back.”
The scoring was so good Friday, even Dufner’s 63 was in jeopardy. South Korea’s K.J. Choi stood on the 17th tee late in the day needing a birdie on one of the last two holes to match it. He instead went bogey-par and had to settle for a 65.
Stenson, the Open Championship runner-up to Mickelson, quietly carded a bogey-free round of 4-under 66. He’s at 6-under 134 along with Rose.
Veteran Steve Stricker is tied for seventh place with Robert Garrigus at 5-under 135, just four shots out of the lead.
There were 33 rounds in the 60s turned in Friday, and not one of them belonged to any of the world’s top three players. Tiger Woods shot an even-par 70 and is 10 shots back at 1-over 141, Mickelson shot his second straight 71 and is at 2-over 142, and Rory McIlroy shot 71 to sit at even-par 140.
They will have to do something truly special today (11 a.m. TNT, 2 p.m. Ch. 4) to be in contention come Sunday, but as the first two rounds have shown, it shouldn’t be ruled out.
1. Jason Dufner 68-63 -9
2. Adam Scott 65-68 -7
3. Matt Kuchar 67-66 -7
4. Jim Furyk 65-68 -7
5. Justin Rose 68-66 -6
6. Henrik Stenson 68-66 -6
7. Robert Garrigus 67-68 -5
8. Steve Stricker 68-67 -5
9. Webb Simpson 72-64 -4
10. Martin Kaymer 68-68 -4