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Inside the Ropes: Dufner still getting accustomed to his new fame

The SportsXchange

A year ago at this time, Jason Dufner was just the guy who blew a five-stroke lead with three holes remaining and lost the PGA Championship to Keegan Bradley in a playoff.

Today, he's a star on the PGA Tour at the age of 35.

Instead of fading away in humiliation after that meltdown, Duf claimed his first two victories among eight top-10 finishes on the Tour this season, wound up second in the regular-season FedEx Cup standings and posted a 3-1 record in the Ryder Cup.

"There wasn't much disappointment from last year, maybe for a little bit after the PGA, but played well at the PGA, first time in a major to play that well to have a chance to win," said Dufner, who is playing this week in the PGA Tour-sanctioned CIMB Classic at the Mines Resort and Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"I think it really just propelled me this offseason. I played some events overseas where I played well, and I was thinking coming into the beginning of this year that I could play some really good golf. (I thought) 'It's time to win some events out here.' "

And so he did.

First, Dufner beat Ernie Els with a birdie on the second playoff hole at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, earning his first victory on the PGA Tour after 164 starts on the circuit.

Three weeks later, and after getting married, he holed a 26-foot birdie putt on the final hole to avoid another playoff and win the HP Byron Nelson Championship by one stroke over Dickie Pride.

"You probably couldn't dream it any better than what's been going on here," Dufner said after winning in Texas. " ... To win two events and get married in the span of 22 days, pretty remarkable. Amanda and I are lucky to be in the position we're in and to have each other and enjoy what's going on around us right now.

"It was nice to have a birdie putt there at the end to win and not to be in a playoff for once. So just all in all a great week (and) month. You couldn't ask for anything more professionally or personally."

Dufner continued the strong play and had a chance to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial before shooting 74 in the final round to finish second behind Zach Johnson. Then he tied for fourth three weeks later in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Only last week, he added a runner-up finish behind Bo Van Pelt in the ISPS Handa Perth International in Australia, a European Tour event, finishing two strokes behind.

After the years of toil, he was at a loss to explain how he went from a perennial also-ran to a PGA Tour winner and a player who can contend in major championships.

"That's really hard to put your finger on," said Duf, whose previous victories came in the 2001 Buy.com Wichita Open and the 2006 LaSalle Bank Open at golf's Triple-A level.

"There have been times when I felt like I've hit good shots and the shots didn't end up where I wanted to, or I've hit good putts and the putts missed, or you get a bad break. On the flip side, you make a 50-footer.

"It's just such a fine line out here between winning and finishing second or 10th."

Winning on the PGA Tour hasn't exactly made Dufner a household name, but the recognition factor sure has changed. And not only in his hometown of Auburn, Ala., where he played college golf.

"All that's been real good," said the 2000 graduate of Auburn. "Obviously I live in a pretty small town, Auburn, pretty close-knit to the university. So living there, a lot of people recognize me.

"The thing I didn't expect is when we go to bigger cities. For example, Providence ... I had a couple people recognize me at dinner. It seems to be all over America people are kind of taking notice of my game and recognizing me out in public.

"So that's kind of been a little bit of an adjustment. I kind of expected it living in the small town that I do, though."

Dufner can raise his international recognition a bit this week in Malaysia, where he will be playing for the second consecutive year.

A year ago, he finished with three rounds in the 60s to tie for 10th.

"I performed well at the event last year and had a great experience visiting the country and the city of Kuala Lumpur for the first time," Dufner said when he committed to return.

"As a player who enjoys playing around the globe, I look forward to the opportunity to play in front of such enthusiastic golf fans. The PGA Tour is continuing to lift its profile in the Asia-Pacific region, and I hope I'll have the chance to come back for years to come."

The way he has played this season, he's welcome anywhere.

COMING UP

PGA TOUR: CIMB Classic at the Mines Resort and Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday through Sunday.

TV: Thursday through Sunday, 1-4 a.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

Last year: Bo Van Pelt posted four rounds of 4-under-par 67 or better and ran away to a six-stroke victory over Jeff Overton, claiming his second PGA Tour title. Van Pelt, who also captured the 2009 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, took a one-stroke lead over Overton into the final round but pulled away by closing with a 64, matching his second-round score. Van Pelt protected his lead with birdies on the third and fourth holes before closing with a flourish, carding birdies on five of the last eight holes. Overton, who set a course record by shooting 62 in round two, closed with a 69.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: AT&T Championship at TPC San Antonio at ATT Canyons in San Antonio, Texas, Friday through Sunday.

TV: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 7:30-9:30 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

LAST YEAR: Fred Couples shot 6-under-par 66 in the final round and coasted to a seven-stroke victory over Mark Calcavecchia, the largest margin of victory on the Champions Tour in 2011. Calcavecchia, who also closed with a 66, got to within four strokes of the lead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole, but Couples pulled away with five birdies on the last eight holes, including the final two. Couples, who won for the second time in the 2011 season, also had a seven-stroke victory a year earlier in the Administaff Small Business Classic at the Woodlands, Texas.

LPGA TOUR: Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship 2012 at Sunrise Golf and Country Club in Yang Mei, Taoyuan, Taiwan, Thursday through Sunday.

TV: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1-3 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

LAST YEAR: Local hero Yani Tseng of Taiwan claimed her seventh LPGA Tour victory of the season by five strokes over Azahara Munoz of Spain and Amy Yang of South Korea. The 22-year-old Tseng began the final round with a two-stroke lead and added to her cushion with four birdies in the first eight holes, the last three in succession. The No. 1 player in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings maintained control with pars on seven consecutive holes before finishing with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18.

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