01/25/2016

You could probably forgive Jason Dufner if he was simply happy to be in contention at the CareerBuilder Challenge. He spent the last two years enduring injuries as well as a very public, by golf standards, divorce.

Dufner hadn’t won since the 2013 PGA Championship and hadn’t been particularly close either. Him being back up the leaderboard was a victory in itself. And when he knocked his tee shot onto the rocks of the par-three 17th, you could concede the tournament to David Lingmerth.

But Dufner didn’t.

He displayed the calmness under pressure that made him a major champion all those months ago. Dufner nearly holed-out the pitch, but a tap-in par proved enough to send him into a playoff with the young Swede.

When Dufner sank a par-putt on the second playoff hole, he had his first win since Oak Hill, a 25-under , brilliant ball-striking display.

Never mind that Rickie Fowler—not to mention to weekend also-ran’s Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy—took away the golf headlines for the weekend. Dufner gave hope that he has life in this game yet. More importantly, he showed that he still knows how to win.

First there was the shot from the rocks, the shot of the year thus far.

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Then there was the errant drive on the opening playoff hole, a replay of the par-four 18th. Dufner cut his drive too much and it landed deep in the fairway bunker. He was forced to layup 80-some yards short of the green.

In the end, he was left with a 10-footer to extend the tournament. Dufner stepped up, with a confident stride, and sank it center-cut.

Perhaps it was his demeanor, as well as his every-man look, that made Duf such a popular player. He packed lips, carried a gut and married well out of his league. The club waggle and the stone-faced celebrations only added to his appeal.

In some ways, it also robbed us of a true assessment of Dufner.

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At his best—in other words, when he’s healthy—he’s as good a shot-maker as there is in the sport. By focusing on his appearance rather than his play, we’ve dismissed him as a golfer. At least to an extent. This is where he sits. Dufner has now won four PGA tournaments including a major.

Another win or two this season would cement his place in the post-Tiger era.

Dufner’s victory provided a nice juxtaposition to what will be a somewhat forgotten weekend in golf. The young guns were out in the United Arab Emirates, a country at the forefront of modernity.

Meanwhile, those outside the Big Four were competing in what was once the Bob Hope Classic, named for a comedian no millennial has ever sought out on Netflix or YouTube.

And yet there was redemption at the TPC Stadium Course in La Quinta, California. Phil Mickelson finished tied for third in his first event of the season. His 21-under-par score hinted that Lefty may not be done yet either.

The erstwhile Jason Gore finished 17th, where he tied Chez Reavie as well as struggling major champions Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson.

[bctt tweet=”By focusing on his appearance rather than his play, we’ve dismissed him as a golfer.”]

But this was Duf’s moment to shine. We’re happy to have him back, and if you looked at him closely following the win—his lips quivered into a smirk briefly—he’s probably happy to be back too.