By STEPHEN HAWKINS
IRVING, Texas — Jason Dufner outwardly showed little emotion last year when he won the Byron Nelson Championship in the midst of his incredible stretch of golf.
The same goes for Dufner when things aren’t going as well, such as this season.
“I don’t show it, but obviously it’s going on inside. I played a lot of rounds this year with frustration and anger on my mind,” Dufner said Wednesday. “I’ve got a good way of hiding the good and the bad. But there has been more anger and frustration this year than there was last year, for sure.”
His victory at the Nelson, after which there was no overwhelming outburst of excitement, capped a four-week span in which Dufner got his first two PGA Tour victories and also got married. He followed that with a runner-up finish at Colonial, a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open and made 21 consecutive cuts to end the season.
“I don’t reflect on it very much at all,” he said. “Nothing is staying the same in golf. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. At this moment in time, I’m a little bit worse than I was last year.”
Heading into Thursday’s opening round of the Nelson, Dufner hasn’t had a top-10 finish this season and has already missed two cuts — twice as many as last year. He is coming off his worst round of the season, a closing 80 at The Players Championship with three double bogeys while never hitting a ball in the water.
The last person to win consecutive Nelsons was Tom Watson, who won three in a row from 1978-80. The only other back-to-back winners are Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead.
A week after The Players, the Nelson field includes only six of the top 25 players in the world ranking, led No. 7 Louis Oosthuizen — who missed the cut last year in his only previous Nelson appearance.
“I would rather come in a bit more in form than coming in top-ranked player (in the field),” said Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champ who tied for 19th last week but hasn’t made consecutive cuts in his seven PGA Tour events this year.
Playing on Nelson sponsor exemptions are Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old amateur from China in his second PGA Tour event since making the cut at the Masters, and 19-year-old Jordan Spieth.
Spieth is playing in the Nelson for the third time, this time as a pro who has made six of nine cuts and already won nearly $700,000 this season. As an amateur at the Nelson, he tied for 16th as a 16-year-old in 2010, then played on the same day as his high school graduation two years ago when he tied for 32nd.
“This tournament is dear to my heart, and it gave me a big bump when I was able to get the exemption and take advantage when I was 16 and 17,” said Spieth, who played one season at the University of Texas before turning pro. “Now back in a little different position now, not in school anymore, but I could be more excited to be back here. This is my favorite event of the year.”
While Dufner might not reflect on that impressive stretch last season, the TPC Four Seasons conjures good memories and those couple of months did give him a good perspective on his potential level of play.
His return to North Texas also could revive the viral sensation of “Dufnering.”
When Dufner made an appearance two months ago to promote the Nelson, there was a picture tweeted of the sleepy-eyed golfer sitting on the floor and slouched against a wall in a school classroom with kids.
Fellow golfers and others mimicked the shot with their own poses posted on Twitter. The hashtag (hash)dufnering emerged, and there are still people posting their own version.
“I was just sitting and somebody decided to take a picture and put it on the Internet. … The guys on Tour had a go at it with me and then it went viral,” he said. “I didn’t take it too seriously. Like most things in my life, I don’t take things too seriously. But it’s been a good response and I think people have had a kick out of it.”
Dufner said it’s “extremely weird” to him to see people having their dogs and cats “Dufnering,” but said the response has been good. He has seen many of the posts, and there is one that stands out.
“One guy did it up in, I think it was a C-130, where they transport tanks for the military. They had the back hatch down and he was sitting on the edge and they were up 20, 30,000 feet in the air,” he said. “That was a unique spot to do it.’