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Dufner Returns to Defend Nelson Title
Though he's not enjoying the type of season he had in 2012, Jason Dufner knows it's still early. After all, the 36-year-old got his career off to a late start when he won for the first time on the PGA in April of last year at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, then followed that playoff win over Ernie Els with a one-shot victory over Dicky Pride in the Byron Nelson Championship.
Those and other top-10 performances earned Dufner a spot on the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team, where he went 3-1. Dufner was one of only three players to win his singles matches on Sunday at Medinah, a day when the Europeans swept past the Americans to forge a 14½ to 13½ victory and retain the Cup.
In 11 events this season, Dufner has missed two cuts and logged only four top-25 finishes, with his best a T-12 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. On the year he's earned $477,029 and 318 FedEx Cup points, ranking him 76th in the season-long points' race.
But Dufner has the game to return to the winner's circle and, after working with his swing coach beforehand, is hoping that happens this week at the Nelson. The $6.7 million event starts Thursday at TPC Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas.
On Wednesday, Dufner sat down with reporters and talked about his season to date. He said his year as been "frustrating," while adding, "I think it gives you a good perspective of what level you can play at. Obviously I was playing at a very high level through most of last year, felt comfortable with what I was doing, definitely have a lot of questions when I was playing from week to week, from tournament to tournament, and you're always trying to get back to a certain point where you feel like you played your best and doing things well at that point."
Here's what else Dufner, who's paired with Keegan Bradley and Matt Kuchar in the first round, had to say.
MODERATOR: Okay, we'll get started we would like to welcome Jason Dufner into the interview room our defending champion here at the Byron Nelson, making his fifth start, coming off of two consecutive top 10s. Jason, your comments?
JASON DUFNER: It's good to be back defending from last year's tournament, a lot of good memories around here. I haven't been on the golf course yet but I talked to a couple of guys, and they talked about how great of shape the course is in and looking forward to getting out in the Pro Am and getting back on the golf course.
Q. Just talk about your season, I know not quite the results you've been looking for.
JASON DUFNER: Yeah, some ups and downs, some good rounds mixed in with some bad rounds, can't seem to put four rounds together, if I can pick my best three rounds, I would have some good finishes, been in position at times to challenge for good finishes or maybe even challenge for competing to win, just kind of goes the other way. So it's been definitely pretty frustrating for me, but I'm trying to keep working on areas of my game that need to improve, and looking forward to putting some good rounds together.
Q. Jason, how much do you reflect back on that stretch last year, that incredible stretch where you had won here and you were second in the Colonial, probably the best stretch of golf you played in your life, and how can you get back to something like that?
JASON DUFNER: I don't reflect on it very much at all, to be honest. That was in the past, golf is a transient game. Nothing is staying the same in golf. You're either getting better or you're getting worse. At this moment in time I'm a little bit worse than I was last year. I'm just trying to focus on some things that I need to do better. The main thing is, putt better. Have a better attitude about my putting. Putting really, kind of beats me down throughout the week of 72 holes. I'm trying to work on those things, and hopefully get to be playing a little better golf come Thursday through Sunday.
Q. That same sense, how much did that stretch show you what you're capable of, without reflecting back on it but obviously it showed you how good you can play the game.
JASON DUFNER: I think it gives you a good perspective of what level you can play at. Obviously I was playing at a very high level through most of last year, felt comfortable with what I was doing, definitely have a lot of questions when I was playing from week to week, from tournament to tournament, and you're always trying to get back to a certain point where you feel like you played your best and doing things well at that point.
Q. Does last week reflect how the year has gone, you had three decent rounds and struggled on Sunday.
JASON DUFNER: Yeah, pretty much, it's been like that every week I've played. Very frustrating to be at a point, 2 back in the lead and finish 68th or whatever I finished, I couldn't even tell you. That's an accurate description of how my year has been for the most part this year.
Q. Speaking of that, on Sunday, the putting was obviously the problem there, because I don't think you found the water at all.
JASON DUFNER: No, putting is pretty much the issue every day that I play golf right now. Even when I play good rounds I feel like I've left numerous, makable putts, so I've got to get better at the putting. Like I said, putting wears on me. Through the week when you're continually feeling like you're shooting the highest score that you can each day, that beats you up pretty good. I've got to figure out how I can putt a little bit better and that will lead to better scoring.
Q. Are you doing anything differently with your practice regimen?
JASON DUFNER: Yeah, a little bit. I worked with my coach yesterday. We talked a lot about it on Sunday when I was driving home. Obviously there are some areas that we think we can improve on with the pace of my stroke, the pace that the ball rolls, because I feel like I'm hitting good putts, missing putts high, on the high side or on the low side. I never feel like my stroke has too much at fault I just need to clean up my pace and pick my line a little bit better so, we worked on that a little bit yesterday thinking about the speed that the ball rolls at, and the pace that you're putting that will free me up from so many mechanical thoughts and trying to get a ball started on the line.
Q. Jason, welcome back to the Four Seasons, what is it that you can fall back on that you liked about this course from last year and positives you can take from that?
JASON DUFNER: I've had some good finishes here, some good rounds on the golf course, being Bermuda grass greens, Bermuda throughout the golf course is what I grew up on so that's very comfortable for me. The lines off the tees are clean, I feel comfortable with where I need to be hitting the golf ball, and into the greens I feel, again, pretty comfortable. I've had some great rounds here, I won last year, feel comfortable, so I feel pretty good coming into the week. I've felt pretty good coming into just about every week that I've played, and I need to get that putter going a little bit and pick my spirits up a little bit.
Q. As the defending champion and on a day like today, Pro Am day, what do you tell the amateur partners to make them feel more comfortable which may be the only chance they get to play all year?
JASON DUFNER: With golf it's a unique opportunity that guys get to come inside the rope with us and play a round of golf. I try to make the day as enjoyable as I can. I want the guys to have a good time, play some good golf, relax a little bit. The Pro Am partners seem to get uptight out there and self conscious about what's going on with who is watching them play golf. I always try to tell them no matter how bad you think you are, I've probably seen worse so don't feel too bad about the shots that you hit. It's a good opportunity for them to mingle with Tour pros today and get to experience a PGA setup so it's always a good time out there.
Q. Last year when you were winning the several tournaments there was a big deal made about you don't get overly excited and show your emotions too much. In the same sense is it just as easy not to show your frustration as it is not to show your emotion of being excited?
JASON DUFNER: I think I don't show it but obviously it's going on inside. I played a lot of rounds this year with frustration and anger on my mind. It's not much fun shooting 74s and 75s that kinda throws your tournaments off. I think you see that with a lot of guys out here. I haven't heard anything about people being able to notice it too much. I've got a good way of hiding the good and the bad. But there has been more anger and frustration this year than there was last year, for sure.
Q. You wouldn't consider anything drastic like a long putter, would you?
JASON DUFNER: No, they're about to ban that, aren't they?
Q. Couple years away.
JASON DUFNER: That's what I heard, not too worried about that. I've struggled with my putting in the past, last year I putted a little better, he was better than average as far as Tour standards go and fourth on the money list. And there have been years that I was 140th and I was 30th on the money list, so I've struggled with it throughout my career. I think I'll pull through, it's just a little bit of mechanical stuff and then a little bit of, just feeling better with it seeing some balls go in the hole instead of missing.
Q. I just wanted to ask, at what age did you start playing golf, and where?
JASON DUFNER: Started playing in Cleveland, Ohio with my grandparents and my father. I played a little bit in my - maybe 12, 13 years old, but I didn't start playing tournaments, junior events until I was about 15.
MODERATOR: Jason, we would be remiss if we didn't bring up Dufnering, because it was right here, last month with the Salesmanship Club, the school visit, talk about the reception you've gotten around the country over the last month.
JASON DUFNER: It's been pretty good, I didn't have to do much, I was just sitting and somebody decided to take a picture and put it on the internet which is always exciting with regard to being in the public spotlight. The guys on Tour had a go at it with me and then it went viral through Twitter and social media and web sites, so it's been good exposure for me, I didn't take it too seriously, like most things in my life I don't take things too seriously, but it's been a good response and I think people have had a kick out of it.
Q. Was there one particular photo that you saw -
JASON DUFNER: There's been a lot. One guy did it up in - I think it was a C 130, where they transport tanks for the military and they had the back hatch down and he was sitting on the edge and they were up 20, 30,000 feet in the air. That was a unique spot to do it. There have been all kinds of people that have mimicked it and tried to replicate it and people having their dogs and cats do it which is extremely weird to me. The response has been pretty good.
MODERATOR: Jason, thanks for coming by and good luck as you go for two in a row.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.