DUBLIN, Ohio — Jason Dufner held off Rickie Fowler and weathered Chief Leatherlips on Sunday to win the storm-plagued Memorial Tournament.
A day after limping into the clubhouse with a miserable 77 in the third round, Dufner knocked in a 32-foot putt for par on the 72nd hole to close out his victory and then walked over to get the coveted handshake from tournament host Jack Nicklaus. Dufner, who had a five-shot lead after 36 holes but trailed by four after 54 holes, signed for a 4-under-par 68 to finish at 13 under and three shots clear of Fowler (70) and Anirban Lahiri (65).
Justin Thomas (72) and Matt Kuchar (73) finished at 9 under. Four players finished at 8 under, including Bubba Watson, who earned his first top-10 in a stroke play event this year.
Unflustered by his third round and unruffled by two weather delays late in the final round, Dufner won his fifth PGA Tour title and first since the 2016 CareerBuilder Challenge. He joined Nicklaus as the only players born in Ohio to win the Memorial.
“Pretty good company there and pretty good event to win,” Dufner said.
After the first weather delay, Dufner took the outright lead with a birdie on 15 and extended his advantage to two shots with a birdie on the 17th, where he hit a 357-yard drive, a 120-yard sand wedge and made a 3-foot putt. After returning to the 18th fairway following the second weather delay as the tournament raced to beat darkness, Dufner first chunked his second shot on the hole from deep rough into more rough. He then hit a sand wedge onto the green and with Fowler just off the green and in position to chip in for birdie to tie for the lead, Dufner made the putt to win.
“So today was nice. Yesterday was not nice. But to rebound from it, I think that makes me really proud to kind of grind through it,” Dufner said. “ ... The delays weren’t a problem, just kind of happens. I was hoping that we could get through with just one. But those things happen out here. I’ve been through a lot of delays, so you get a routine and stick to it.”
Not only did he beat a stellar field, but Dufner got the best of Chief Leatherlips. Local lore holds that Nicklaus built his sweeping Muirfield Village on an ancient Native American burial ground that included the final resting place of Chief Leatherlips, dead for more than 200 years. No evidence supports this contention, but locals point to the number of weather delays that have plagued the Memorial as evidence of a curse.
Since the first tournament in 1976, rain, lightning, fog, wind, snow and even a horde of cicadas have played through, causing delays in 27 of the 42 tournaments.
After three brilliant days of sunshine, lightning and rain descended on Muirfield Village at 4:18 p.m. local time and delayed play for 1 hour, 15 minutes. After players returned to the course, thunderstorms caused action to cease at 6:49 p.m. for 1 hour, 17 minutes.
Dufner now might be deluged by his peers looking for the same reading material that got him into the winner’s circle. After reading articles about breathing techniques employed by snipers to slow their heart rate, Dufner started working this year on establishing a putting routine that would put less stress on his heart rate. Using his own type of Zen meditation, he started concentrating on his address positions and his breathing.
Dufner said he takes the putter back only after he exhales. Then he counts 1-2 to help with the rhythm of his stroke as the putter goes back and then forward.
It worked to perfection on the final putt. And in the first two rounds, where Dufner shot 65-65. His 130 total through 36 holes broke the record held by Scott Hoch (1987) and Rickie Fowler (2010) by one shot. In the first two rounds, he made 30 of 32 putts inside 10 feet.
“I hope it’s the start of some big things for this year and going forward,” Dufner said. “I’ve had a pretty good year. 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.”
© 2018 USATODAY.COM