Jason Dufner celebrates his 35th birthday today by playing in the penultimate pairing of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard. His playing partner is 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell .
Dufner's 3-under-par 69 Friday at Bay Hill gave him a share of the clubhouse lead with McDowell at 9-under 135 for much of the day until Woods came in with a 7-under 65 and seized the 36-hole lead at 134. Charlie Wi later matched Woods at 10 under par with his 68.
It almost reprised a pairing from a year ago when Dufner and Woods played together on Saturday also, but they were five strokes back then. They would have been in the final pairing today if Wi had not birdied his final hole.
Good thing Dufner, who is seeking his first PGA TOUR title, is feeling good about his game. In the last three stroke-play events, including here at Bay Hill, he has opened with a 66. He finished tied for 10th at last week's Transitions Championship.
"I'm just really comfortable with where my game is at right now," Dufner, a Cleveland native who now lives in Alabama, said. "I think any given day, I can go out and shoot a 5 or 6under and do it pretty comfortably. If the putter were to get hot, I feel like I could go shoot some lower scores."
That might be what it takes to keep up with Woods, Wi, McDowell and others as a shootout looms. But the man who finished runner-up to Keegan Bradley in last year's PGA Championship, seems like he's ready for the challenge. Dufner ranks first in driving accuracy and fifth in putting through 36 holes. He has suffered just two bogeys.
"It's been a pretty comfortable Florida Swing for me as far as golf goes," he said. " Maybe a little frustrated scoring wise, not converting on as many birdies. But there has not been a lot of stressful situations the last two or three weeks."
Today, though, could be interesting. Woods thinks so, too.
"You know, obviously he's playing well," Woods said of Dufner. "Ever since last year's PGA on, he's really played well. Seems like he's taken his game to another level."