DUBLIN, Ohio — A popular term in golf is “horses for courses.” It refers to players who have a history of fine play at a certain venue. Think Jack Nicklaus at Augusta National or Ben Hogan at Riviera Country Club. Or Tiger Woods at a handful of joints like Torrey Pines, Bay Hill, Firestone Country Club or here at Muirfield Village Golf Club, where he won the Memorial Tournament five times.
Though hailing from Cleveland, Jason Dufner has felt more like a mule when it comes to Muirfield Village. After a few frustrating starts, he had to be dragged back in 2013 to compete for the United States in the Presidents Cup.
“I wasn’t really excited about playing the Presidents Cup here, but figured it was a team event so I’d probably be OK,” Dufner explained. “And now I’ve had good results, good scores, so I feel a lot more comfortable here.”
If he were any more comfortable here, he’d be putting his feet up on the locker-room furniture. As it stands, he has a leg up on the competition after firing his second straight seven-under 65 to seize control of the 42nd Memorial with a record 14-under 130 total.
From mule to stallion.
Thanks to a 6-iron from 176 yards that found the cup for only the third eagle at the par-4 18th in Memorial history, Dufner is running away from the field. When he tapped in for par at the ninth, his final hole of the day, he was six strokes clear of second-place Rickie Fowler, though most players in the afternoon wave had yet to embark on their second rounds.
It’s the second time in three years Dufner has held the 36-hole Memorial lead. Two years ago, when he followed an eagle at the par-5 15th with an ace at the par-3 16th, he shared the second-round lead with eventual winner David Lingmerth. He ended up T-24 by slipping on a 74-75 banana peel.
Maybe the script will be different this time. He’s only three more eagles from Tom Lehman’s 1994 tournament record of 20-under 268. (In 2015, Dufner converted a record four eagles here.)
Helping him turn the page about Muirfield were his U.S. teammates during their Presidents Cup victory. He picked a few brains. Successfully. “Just talking to those guys a little bit on strategy, because we were there as a team. You don’t get that too much week to week out here,” Dufner said. “It was nice to have that event and gave me a little more confidence on this place.”
It helps that he has more confidence in what was the weakest part of his game—his putting. But this year, thanks to a conscious effort to control his breathing and steady himself, which he talked about at length after the opening round, he has improved dramatically. But he also has cleaned up his pre-shot routine.
“It seems like the guys that putt well, their routine is pretty crisp, pretty clean, pretty consistent. I think I’ve lacked in that area at times. This week it’s working well for me,” said the laconic Alabama resident. “My putting has always been my struggle, but this year it’s been my strongest attribute statistically, if you look.”
Asked what might be in store the next two days, Dufner, winner of four PGA Tour titles, including the 2013 PGA Championship shrugged. “I’m not sure, I’ve never done two [low rounds] in a row. We’ll find out tomorrow.”
He’ll be hard to catch if he doesn’t break stride.