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Don't sleep on Dufner for the US Open

ESPN staff
May 22, 2012
Jason Dufner hoists the trophy © PA Photos

After two wins in less than a month - and two strong challenges in as many major championships - it's time for people to sit up and take notice of Jason Dufner.

The 35-year-old American is among the most in-form players in the game right now, although you wouldn't necessarily know it to look at him.

The notoriously unflappable Auburn graduate completed the second PGA Tour victory of his career at the Byron Nelson last week - rolling in a 25-footer to clinch a one-shot victory - to follow up his maiden title, at the Zurich Classic, at the end of April.

Both wins follow just six months on from the biggest moment of his career to date - when he was beaten by Keegan Bradley in a play-off at the US PGA Championship after at one point holding a five-shot lead over his rival.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Dufner, who at least appeared to have put that behind him by claiming the half-way lead at The Masters - although again he seemed to suffer in the extreme heat of a major spotlight, fading out of contention after a poor third round of 75.

Nevertheless, few other golfers can claim a comparable run of success - indeed, outside the game's elite (Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy) only the likes of Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose and Webb Simpson can say they have been similar productive over the same sort of span.

Noticeably, all three are considered to be strong contenders to be among golf's next major winners. Dufner has now played his way into that discussion.

"I feel really comfortable on the golf course," Dufner said on Sunday. "I feel as if I'm in control of my game. I'm getting better emotionally, dealing with the pressure of trying to win."

Winning a major is a different task altogether, however. Fortunately, Dufner appears to have the perfect mentality for the challenge. It's impossible not to notice how little he reacts to shots good or bad; a trait reminiscent of Retief Goosen in its unnerving yet simultaneously impressive calm.

Goosen, of course, was a prodigious opponent at US Opens - winning both his major titles in the event, and in a four-year span to boot. With Dufner possessing that same imperturbable spirit while also seemingly playing the best golf of his life, he must be considered among the favourites for Olympic Club.

Putting could prove his Achilles heel, while maybe - much like a duck - his calm outward demeanour masks a rising internal fear when the moment gets bigger and bigger. That would explain his recent major 'collapses', but perhaps recent victories will ease those twin flaws.

"There is a bit of a battle out there," Dufner admitted. "I'm not the most comfortable on the greens, putting. Some days I struggle with it, other days are better. So I just think everything is coming full circle, and I have worked hard to get to this level."

Nevertheless, with his mentality and his smooth middle-of-the-fairway, middle-of-the-green style of play, Dufner could be primed for yet another strong finish at the second major championship of the year... and maybe even another win.

"I'll let other people decide if I'm one of the favourites," he noted. "[But] I don't think there's really any favourite, because it's golf."

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