AKRON - Jason Dufner doesn't look like your typical golfer. With a small pot gut hanging over his belt, a dip perpetually under his lip and a seemingly unflappable demeanor, he addresses the ball on Firestone's second hole, waggles the club a handful of times and stripes it some 300 yards down the middle of the fairway.
It's Dufner's first ever round at Firestone Country Club, and although 2012 has already been a career year for the former Auburn Tiger culminating in his first two PGA victories, as we stroll towards his tee shot Dufner says he hopes to finish the season just as well as he's started.
"Coming into this season I felt like I had some pretty good years," Dufner said. "Obviously not having a win was frustrating a little bit, so I've just been trying to stay true to my practice and preparation."
Jason Dufner gets some work in during a practice round Tuesday for the Bridgestone Invitational. The Cleveland-born Dufner has had a breakout year so far in 2012, winning twice for his first PGA Tour victories and earning more than $4 million in the process. He is almost guaranteed a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and if he can notch another victory, will earn serious consideration for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors. (Salem News/B.J. Lisko)
Dufner's perseverance has paid off.
He beat Ernie Els in a playoff to capture the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at the end of April and edged Dicky Pride by a shot to win the HP Byron Nelson Championship just three weeks later. In between his victories he married longtime girlfriend Amanda Boyd, and after winning in Texas he nearly won a third time the following week at the Colonial finishing second to former Masters champion Zach Johnson.
"Just having the experience of being out here, this is my seventh year playing the same events ... just getting comfortable playing these tournaments has been key," he said.
The Cleveland-born Dufner struggled to hold a spot on the PGA Tour early in his career bouncing back and forth between the big leagues and the Nationwide Tour. After earning his tour card at Q-School to end 2008, in 2009 his game started to show serious signs of life as Dufner netted six top-10s and a second place finish in the Deutsche Bank Championship, part of the FedEx Cup playoffs. He finished 33d on the money list that year. After backtracking slightly in 2010, his first win nearly came at the PGA Championship in Atlanta last year. But after losing a five-shot lead with four to play and falling in a playoff to Keegan Bradley, many wondered if Dufner could rebound.
So far he's answered the question with a resounding "yes."
Dufner sits third in the FedEx Cup standings trailing only Tiger Woods and Johnson, and is almost assured a spot on this year's U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Winning in Akron would certainly be an added bonus to an already stellar year.
"There's a lot of history on this golf course," he said. "It's more of an old fashioned, throw back type of golf course. Driving the golf ball well and being able to comfortably attack and stay under the hole locations is going to be key."
Following Firestone, Dufner will take another crack at the PGA Championship next week at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. He finished tied for fifth in 2010 and runner-up last season, so this particular major title is well within his radar.
"I've only played one event since the U.S. Open (British Open - T31) so I expected to be playing a lot of golf," he said of the remainder of the season. "I prepared my schedule around this stretch to be prepared physically and mentally to make a run here in the last part of the season."
His game has showed no signs of slowing, and he very well could be in the mix in Akron come Sunday.
"We'll see how it goes," he said. "I feel pretty good about my game right now. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing."
If that's the case, this could be just the beginning of a storied career.