Jason Dufner knew the layout of Firestone County Club well from so many years walking the course as a boy. As a result, his first two trips around it as a pro have put him in contention at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational entering the weekend.
Dufner fired a 4-under-par 70 Friday to make him 7 under for the tournament, good enough for fourth place and 4 strokes behind leader Jim Furyk. He is trying to join Tiger Woods (1999) as the only players to win the Bridgestone Invitational in their first appearance in the tournament.
For Dufner, the victory would be even sweeter. He grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Olmsted Township and attended the golf tournament at Firestone every summer from the time he began playing the game around the age of 13 until he left for college at Auburn.
“It would be really neat to come back to an event I’m familiar with and have a lot of memories with and get a win here,” he said. “But that’s a couple days away.”
Dufner is playing this weekend in front of a large gathering of family and friends. This is his first time on the course as a player after so many years as a spectator.
“It’s nice to come back and play in front of a lot of folks who haven’t had the chance to see me up close,” Dufner said. “I don’t have a lot of experience on the course, but I’m familiar with this area, and it’s good to play in front of a home crowd.”
Just as he did Thursday, Dufner rallied to birdie No. 18. That came after a poor tee shot on the Monster led to his only bogey of the day on No. 16 after he missed a short par putt. Dufner, who typically is even-keeled and rarely shows emotion on the course, seemed frustrated when he threw the ball into the water coming off 16. Perhaps that frustration stems from bogeys on 16 after missing short par putts in each of his first two rounds, although he later said the ball was cut from hitting a tree.
He recovered the stroke Friday with a 340-yard drive into the middle of the fairway on 18, leaving an easy wedge shot and a short putt to move to 7 under.
“I’m confident with my driver, and it’s nice to get a wedge in your hand,” Dufner said. “Anytime I get a wedge in my hand, I feel like I can make a birdie, so it makes that hole a little easier. Nice way to end the day.”
Dufner has positioned himself to take over the top spot in the FedExCup standings from Woods with at least a second-place finish this weekend. A FedExCup points victory would net Dufner millions.
He won his first two tour events this year — the Zurich Classic and the Byron Nelson — and joins Woods, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan as the only repeat winners on tour this season.
“My game feels really good,” he said. “I think this is a pretty good golf course for me. You’ve got to keep it in the fairways, control your distances, keep it underneath hole locations so you can be aggressive with your putting. It’s been a nice mix for me out here at Firestone.”