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Soak Hill - Rain, Jason Dufner Turn 2013 PGA Championship into Lawn Darts Tournament
What is it James Taylor likes to sing?
It does you no good to pretend,
You've made a hole too big to mend,
It looks like now you lose again,
So call on your Rainy Day Man
They'll be singing that song in Rochester for many decades to come because mighty Oak Hill - the place where once only 10 men finished a major tournament under par - has been laid low, first by rain and then by dozens of Rainy Day Men who fired rounds in the middle-60s. First, Webb Simpson thundered through the course with a blistering 64 in the teeth of a morning rain storm, a round that tied the course record, albeit for only five hours because Jason Dufner later provided the lightning strike, electrifying everyone with an early eagle before ending the day with fireworks, a major championship record tying 63. It could easily have been a 62 or even a 61. At 9-under for the tournament, Dufner has a two shot lead over reigning Masters champion Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, and 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.
Indeed, Oak Hill should now be called Soak Hill as two consecutive overnight rains and a steady downpour till noon on Friday turned the last major championship of 2013 into a lawn-darts social. Large portions of the field were able to bite off the head and suck out the lungs of what was reputed to be one of the more fearsome major championship venues in America. Thirty-three players broke par on Friday, including each of the top 14 players on the leaderboard, and middle-60s rounds were the order of the day. They made it look like Oak Silly.
"You got to be more aggressive off the tee . . . and the rain let us fire at all the pins because the balls were stopping," said Simpson, who played his opening nine holes of the tournament in a dismal 5-over par, but played the past 27 in a sizzling 9-under to finish at 4-under at the halfway mark, five shots back of Dufner. "There was a lot less thinking involved in your approach shots in terms of their releasing. With the moisture on the greens the balls were spinning more."
"Today was a great day for players to go out, play well and separate themselves. It was easier because the rain softened the greens," agreed Phil Mickelson.
"The greens are very soft now and a lot of people are walking all over this golf course," added Martin Kaymer, whose early-morning 68 put him at 4-under as well, tied with Simpson, Charley Hoffman and Marcus Fraser. "Someone's going to go really low this afternoon."
Kaymer was prophetic as Dufner torched Oak Hill with five birdies, one eagle and no bogeys - a perfectly clean card - en route to a performance that stole the course record from Simpson, Curtis Strange and Ben Hogan. Despite hitting only eight fairways, he still hit 15 greens and holed out a sand wedge from 105 yards on the 401-yard par-4 second hole for a deuce. He also carded birdies on Nos. 4, 5, 11, 13 and 16.
Needing one more birdie for sole possession of the all-time, single round major championship record, Dufner split the fairway and hit the green on both 17 and 18, the two toughest holes at Soak Hill, then agonizingly lipped out the former while stupidly leaving the latter two feet short.
"Oh you blockhead!" snarled one reporter, just saying what everyone else was thinking as the entire world was wishing for that 62, around which would have the immortalized the affable, but seemingly sleepwalking Dufner, who made slouching on the floor with your eyes open - called "Dufnering" - into a zany sensation that swept the nation a few months ago. Now celebs and athletes alike are racing to Twitter and Facebook to post pictures of themselves prostrate on the floor, legs splayed, with a vacant look in their eyes. The idea is to look like you had too many bong hits at the Grateful Dead show without actually having had any.
Still, between his Dufnering, his Diz (the little scruff of beard below his lip, named after Dizzy Gillespie), and his dip, the aw-shucksing, slow sauntering "Duff Daddy" as his friends and fellow players call him isn't just a crowd favorite he's a runaway blockbuster hit, and pro golfer after pro golfer lined up to congratulate him, while also chomping at the bit to go back out and hammer Oak Hill into silence and sullenly submitting to another massacre.
"This isn't our Oak Hill" moaned one shell-shocked member. "We play a course harder than this.
"They might want to de-major it, joked Hall of Fame golf writer Dan Jenkins. That might be hyperbole as Oak Hill is one of the most ergonomic major championship venues - right up there with Hazeltine National for its size, accessibility, and friendliness. Still, it's proving one of the easiest in many decades as well. Not since Olympia Yields . . . er . . . Fields in the '03 U.S. Open has there been such a dismemberment of a golf course by the field.
"I'm going to have to go out and shoot 6- or 7-under tomorrow to have a chance on Sunday," explained Phil Mickelson, presently 2-over after a second consecutive 71.
"You can really get after the golf course," said reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, whose front-nine 29 helped power him to a 66, putting him just three off the lead, along with Henrik Stenson. "With soft greens, these guys can really take advantage."
Most players and experts are hoping that at some point the course will dry out and Oak Hill will regain its respect - after all, this is too soft, with scores resembling your rank-and-file Tour event rather than a major championship at one of golf's most hallowed strongholds, but for the moment the best golfers have risen to the top. The usual puzzling stranger or two are nowhere to be seen except for Robert Garrigus, who briefly held the lead before stumbling late and finishing at 5-under.
Nevertheless, the golf world can enjoy the dance craze where you're actually not on your feet. Everybody do the Dufner! Just make sure nobody trips over you as they walk by.
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.
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