After blowing a five-shot lead with four to play at this event two years ago none would deny Jason Dufner his hour in the sun.
Dufner could even afford a bogey-bogey finish and still claim his maiden major championship by two strokes from Jim Furyk. His final round 68 gave him a 10-under-par total of 270, lowering the Oak Hill record in this championship by four shots. Furyk, perhaps hoping to profit from the kind of meltdown that immolated Dufner in Atlanta, adopted a conservative policy, shooting a disappointing 71 to close on eight under par.
Excitement flared briefly with the two locked at ten under after six holes but by the turn Dufner had established a two-shot lead that, despite the late wobble, he would maintain all the way home. Dufner is a curious soul presenting an outward façade of country boy sang-froid that masks a sensitive disposition and a sharp golf game. From the second to the 16th holes he had ten single putts, which places him in the gunslinger category of finisher. Bogeys over the closing holes were matched by Furyk, thus draining the denouement of any dramatic tension. In the end this was a victory for Dufnering, that blissful, sloth-like state pioneered by the man himself.
Rory McIlroy leaves Oak Hill much encouraged and, were it not for a triple bogey seven at the fifth, with a sense of what might have been. Over the 25 holes leading into the final round McIlroy was the ahead of the field, covering the stretch in seven under. He started with three birdies in his first four holes on Thursday, suggesting the swagger was returning, and he finished with his chest peacock high in a tie for eighth place after a round of 70.
McIlroy set out with Lee Westwood needing early birdies to eat into an overnight deficit that stood at six under. For McIlroy it all started so well. After going close at the second he obliged at the third to go four under. Steady as you go Rory. If only. Two holes later he was scribbling that seven on his card after his approach to the green dribbled back off the front on to rocks.
Westwood took a five at the fifth after finding water off the tee. But that was not the worst of it. He had already bogeyed the second and doubled the third to drift ten shots back after five holes. He was treading water after that, posting a 76.
The Woods show ended without an encore. He was in the limo en route to the airport with the leaders still opening their shoulders on the range. Not the climax to the major season he imagined five days ago after blitzing by seven the very same adversaries at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
By the time Woods tees up at the Masters in April the major drought will have extended to six years. That offers eight long months for those advocating the 'Woods as busted flush' theory to glory in their victory. It is worth remembering, however, that Woods will be 38 at Augusta, giving him eight years to add in same time frame as Jack Nicklaus the four majors he needs to draw level on 18.
For what it's worth, Nicklaus believes Woods might be trying too hard to chase him down. “It looks to me that he is trying to force it a little,” Nicklaus said. He might have a point, but that argument was not relevant to this bland contribution. Woods has yet to break 70 at this course. His even par fourth round was typical of the scratchy stuff served up all week.
A four-over-par total on a course that has never been more generous is a grim report on the sudden dip in standards. “I've had nine birdies in 72 holes, not enough. I didn't give myself many looks and didn't hit the ball good enough to be in it,” Woods said. He was sanguine about the state of the major challenge. “I've been there in half of them (this year), so that's about right. It's more frustrating not being in it.”
Ian Poulter showed what might be achieved with his customary early blast on Sundays at this event. Last year he piped five birdies out of the box en route to third place. Yesterday he ripped four in the opening six holes, but he was never in the hunt for prizes. By the close he was more interested in the barbecue by the pool with the kids in Florida, and posted on Twitter a picture composed of the means of conveying him there - private jet and Heineken - to prove it.
“It was fantastic, average and poor; six birdies, six pars, six bogeys. I missed a 3.5ft par putt on seven, a 4ft par putt on nine. I should have been five under through nine holes. I have a wedge in my hand at 10 and three-putt, and make a silly bogey at the next. From a position of possibly being six or seven under par for the round I'm two under and wanting to get off the golf course. Unless you are going to shoot millions under par it is hard to get up for it.”
He was up for it on the way home. Maybe it was the beer fuelling his Twitter feed. In the firing line were those in the audience with a predilection for shouting “mashed potato” after every shot. “We should be allowed to take 10,000 volt tasers on to the course and taser every muppet who shouts out something stupid. I would laugh then. This baba boo shit and mashed potato crap wouldn't happen at Augusta, The Open, wouldn't happen at Wimbledon. Taser the thrushes,” he said.
Final leaderboard at Oak Hill
270 J Dufner (US) 68 63 71 68
272 J Furyk (US) 65 68 68 71
273 H Stenson (Swe) 68 66 69 70
274 J Blixt (Swe) 68 70 66 70
275 S Piercy (US) 67 71 72 65
275 A Scott (Aus) 65 68 72 70
276 D Toms (US) 71 69 69 67
277 R McIlroy (NIrl) 69 71 67 70
278 G McDowell (NIrl) 70 69 73 66
283 J Rose (Eng) 68 66 77 72
283 L Westwood (Eng) 66 73 68 76
284 T Woods (US) 71 70 73 70
288 I Poulter (Eng) 70 71 77 70