Thursday 23 November 2017

Jason Dufner injury the latest blow to hit Watson plans

Jason Dufner was forced to abort his US PGA Championship title defence as he withdrew due to a lingering neck injury
Jason Dufner was forced to abort his US PGA Championship title defence as he withdrew due to a lingering neck injury

Mark Lamport-Stokes

As if Rory McIlroy's stunning form was not enough to give the American Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson reason to worry, his hopes of victory at Gleneagles next month have been further undermined by a mounting injury list.

Jason Dufner was forced to abort his US PGA Championship title defence after 10 holes late on Thursday during the opening round here in Louisville, withdrawing because of a lingering neck injury.

Dufner has been severely hampered by two bulging discs in his neck since April and was eight- over-par for the day, having triple-bogeyed the par-five 10th, when he decided to pull out of the year's final major.

He shook hands with his playing partners, fellow American Keegan Bradley and South Korean Yang Yong-eun, who are both former PGA Championship winners.

Dufner had to limit severely his preparation for the tournament after having an epidural and being advised by doctors to take as much rest as possible.

"They like you to rest seven to 10 days after that," he told reporters on the eve of the PGA Championship. "I haven't really been able to do that, so I'm trying to rest, keep my reps [repetitions of exercises] down.

"I feel sore. I get a little fatigued quicker than usual. It's an arthritic, degenerative issue that I'm probably going to be dealing with for a good bit. It's just something that's not going to change. I'm going to have to deal with it."

Dufner, who has been troubled by the injury since the Masters in April, said he would not be healthy until he was able to take a break from the game of six to eight weeks.

"Not sure when that's going to be, but I'll get through it," the 37-year-old said. "Obvious reasons for playing this week; defending [the title] is pretty important to me."

Dufner won his first major with a two-shot victory in last year's PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

After pulling out of the tournament, Dufner said: "I've been feeling pretty bad all week. I felt bad last week.

"I haven't made a birdie in 45 holes and I'm just not able to play golf right now.

"I don't need to be out here. I tried to do what I could to be able to compete some and give it a go, but it is just pointless. I can't play golf, there is no reason to be out here."

Asked when he might be able to compete again, Dufner added: "It could be two weeks, it could be next year."

Which cannot fill Watson with hope. First reserve Steve Flesch, who would have played if Dufner had not started his round, wrote on Twitter: "Missed it by that much! [10 holes] Killing me Duf! Just kidding Pal. Get better soon."

Watson also saw Matt Kuchar withdraw from competition on the eve of the the tournament due to a back problem.

Kuchar is the world number six and a sure-fire Ryder Cup player for the Americans.

Add in Tiger Woods' erratic form and troublesome back and Dustin Johnson's decision to take time out of golf for an unspecified reason and things could not be much bleaker for the American team.

Although not a contender for the US Ryder Cup team, the American Ben Crane became the third player to withdraw from the PGA Championship due to back issues when he pulled out before his tee-off time in the second round yesterday.

The 38-year-old, a five-times winner on the PGA Tour who was competing in his ninth PGA Championship, had opened with a three-over-par 74 here.

Crane's exit follows the withdrawals of veteran David Toms, on Tuesday, and Kuchar, on Thursday, who both cited back issues.

But as Watson watched Stricker compile a 68 to move to five-under yesterday, the thought of Stricker on his team was inevitable.


Should he finish in the top two here, the 46-year-old would almost certainly qualify for Gleneagles - and then Watson would have to look elsewhere for his bridge with the modern players. He sounded utterly perplexed after shooting a 73 to finish on three over. "You're not supposed to be injured like that. They're young guys. I'm the one who's supposed to be injured," he said.

At least Stever Stricker sounded more positive than on Thursday night, after signing for his opening 69. "Guys are dropping like flies on our team and it's a little bit scary," Stricker had said. "Kuch I see withdrew this morning and Dustin Johnson as we know is out and Tiger is not feeling very good; Dufner and his neck, it doesn't bode well for us so far."

It certainly does not, especially with Stricker himself suffering from a hip injury. Paul McGinley has no such worries, looking on as so many Europeans are playing well here. Henrik Stenson, the world No 3, shot a 71 to remain at five-under .

It is not just the Americans who are dropping like flies. Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat withdrew from the tournament last night because of a knee injury after eight holes in the rain-hit second round.

The 25-year-old opened with a one-over-par 72 and was five over for the round when he pulled out.

Aphibarnrat, who is known for his 'go-for-broke' style of play, was making his second PGA Championship appearance, having tied for 25th on his debut last year at Oak Hill. (© Independent News Service)

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