AUGUSTA, Ga. - Jason Dufner didn't waste any time giving himself another shot in a major.
When last seen on a big stage, Dufner lost a five-shot lead with four holes to play and wound up losing the PGA Championship in a playoff. Nearly eight months later, Dufner walked off the 18th green Friday at the Masters and saw his name atop the leaderboard.
Despite a bogey from the bunker on his last hole, he shot a 2-under 70 and shared the lead with Fred Couples.
"I had some really nice rounds at the PGA," Dufner said. "Didn't quite work out, but carried over into this year. It gave me confidence that I can compete and play at a high level out here and do really nice things."
Dufner has done a lot of nice things over the last few years, which explains why he is No. 31 in the world ranking. He just hasn't done anything to distinguish himself - like winning.
The Masters is his 162nd start on the PGA Tour, and the 35-year-old from Alabama remains the only player in the top 50 who has never won on any recognized tour around the world.
Dufner is not likely to get much recognition at Augusta National, except for the Southern fans crying out "War Eagle" to salute his days at Auburn. He shared the lead with Couples, one of the most popular figures at the Masters, if not all of golf.
Everything about Couples looks cool.
Dufner looks like he doesn't have a pulse. With a plug of tobacco jutting from his lower lip, he shows no emotion over a birdie or bogey. He decided to take a rest going into the Masters and didn't even come to the course on Wednesday. It sounded like an exciting day.
"I just hung out at the house," he said. "I had a couple of errands, picked up some dry cleaning, had to send something off. Watched the History Channel a good bit."
He tries to keep it simple on the golf course, too.
"I know the situation, and I'm playing a major, I'm playing at Augusta in the Masters," Dufner said. "As a player, I know everything that's going on. At times, I know that I am leading or behind or whatever it might be in that situation. I'm just trying to have a nice round of golf, play well, commit to my shots and let the rest take care of itself."
That seems to have worked the first two days.
Dufner quickly joined the leaders with back-to-back bogeys early in his round, only to lose it on one hole. With a wet, muddy lie short of the green on the par-3 fourth hole, he dumped his chip into a bunker and made double bogey.
"I just got in a bad situation," he said.
Dufner fought back, however, and tied for the lead again with birdies on the 13th and 14th. Despite missing a 6-foot birdie attempt on the par-5 15th, he stuffed his tee shot into about 4 feet on the 16th for birdie and the outright lead. It didn't last long. The 18th was playing into the wind, a tough finish, and Dufner found the bunker right of the green for his bogey.
No matter. He was in contention at another major; hopefully, the outcome might be a little different this time.
Dufner's meltdown was surprising in the PGA Championship just down the highway at Atlanta Athletic Club. He hit into the water on the 15th and scrambled for bogey, missed the green on the 16th for another bogey and three-putted the 17th for bogey.
What he remembers from that day was that he needed par on the 18th hole to force a playoff, and that's what he did. Keegan Bradley wound up beating him in the three-hole playoff.
And yes, he felt the nerves that afternoon in Atlanta, and he's sure to be feeling them again during the weekend at Augusta.
"There's a lot more going on out there than appears," he said. "I feel like I have the same emotions and same thought processes as a lot of guys, but I seem to not show it quite as well as some other players. It's just difficult. It's a test to yourself."
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