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Rubenstein: Dufner tougher mentally than many think

Jason Dufner

Charlie Krupa

Last May I included Jason Dufner as one of my five picks for the Players Championship. I did that because I thought he's a player who knows how to hit fairways and greens. His strength is accuracy, and that's what's required at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Dufner has shot 70-65 and is tied with Keegan Bradley at the halfway point for the PGA Championship.

Dufner, I should add, tied for sixth at the Players. He held or shared the lead during the third round, and slipped a bit in the final round when he shot 72. He hasn't won yet on the PGA Tour, he's 34, and you'd think maybe he's getting a bit old to win his first tournament there, let alone a major. But it wouldn't surprise me if he plays well in the third round, is right there Sunday, and goes ahead and wins.

The thing about Dufner is that his game draws no attention at all to itself. He's not long, he doesn't make a ton of birdies, he's not great in any department. But he's a solid player who can move his ball around and hit it in the right place. There are so many wrong places at the AAC's Highlands course that his ability is a pretty decent attribute.

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Meanwhile, Dufner has had four top-10s this year. He lost in a playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February. He's 36th in FedExCup points, which will easily qualify him for the playoff series that begins in a couple of weeks. He's also comfortable in hot weather, something else that should be in his favour this weekend.

I also like the fact that he just goes about his business without any drama. It's as if he's not even there, but then he is - at the top after the first two rounds. He doesn't betray anxiety or nervousness, but he's bound to feel these emotions if he is contending for the trophy late in Sunday's round. If he avoids those dreaded "others," double bogeys or worse, that is, I think he can win this thing.

Meanwhile, one Canadian in Australia is hoping Dufner will come through. He e-mailed me to let me know that he put a bet down on Dufner for the Players, and would have cashed had the golfer finished in the top five rather than tying for sixth. He got Dufner for the PGA at 400-1, and was shocked to get such high odds. Dufner, after all, did tie for fifth in last year's PGA. Now he's tied at the top.

Dufner said the following after shooting 65 on Friday, referring to what it would mean to him to win a major. "That would probably be the most meaningful thing to me in my career so far since I've never won anything. It would be pretty amazing for the first win to be a major.

I came pretty close last year at Whistling Straits. I had a reasonable chance going into the last nine holes to catch those guys. I think I missed the playoff by two shots. I don't want to say that I've been there like a lot of guys, but I've had a taste of some opportunities to win some tournaments."

He has a wonderful opportunity this weekend. I'll say this: I think he's tougher mentally than many observers might think.

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