Battle-hardened leader should hold on
STORY SO FAR
JASON DUFNER won his maiden US Tour title three weeks ago and the chunky American has clearly got a taste for it. He leads the Byron Nelson Championship with one round to go.
Dufner defeated Ernie Els in a play-off for the Zurich Classic to get off the mark, having threatened a breakthrough victory on a number of occasions, then he got married the following Saturday.
Last week big Jason finished tailed off in the Players Championship as his whirlwind schedule caught up with him, but he has had his game-face back on in Texas over the last three days and is back in top form.
Dufner was 22-1 for Byron Nelson glory at the start of the week, but no bigger than 21-10 is available with 18 holes to play. Local man JJ Henry is one of three players who are just one shot off the pace, but 2010 champion Jason Day is the pursuer given greatest hope of success by the bookmakers.
Pre-tournament favourite Phil Mickelson is seven shots off the pace, while last week's Sawgrass hero Matt Kuchar has a four-shot deficit to make up on Dufner.
-8 Jason Dufner
-7 JJ Henry, Jason Day, Dicky Pride
-6 Vijay Singh
-5 Jonas Blixt, Marc Leishman
-4 Rich Beem, Joe Durant, Scott Piercy, Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar, Pat Perez, Ryan Palmer
21-10 J Dufner, 3 J Day, 10 JJ Henry, 12 V Singh, 14 D Pride, 20 M Kuchar, 22 K Bradley, 25 M Leishman, 33 J Blixt, R Palmer, 40 S Piercy, P Perez, 66 bar
THE dust has settled for Jason Dufner after the greatest moment of his professional life (his Zurich Classic triumph) and the greatest moment of his personal life (his wedding to the lovely Amanda), and he is looking in a good place mentally to land a quick follow-up success in Texas.
He has converted only one of the four 54-hole leads he has built in his US Tour career, but he was a nervous maiden for all of them. These days, having overcome the legendary Ernie Els in extra holes a New Orleans shootout, he walks with the assurance of a champion.
The typically windswept TPC Four Seasons lends itself to quality ball-striking and Dufner was always going to be a contender if he could rediscover his focus. He finished eighth in last year's Byron Nelson and has loved the challenge of working his ball around the tough layout.
Jason Day is obviously the main threat to Dufner-backers, but the Australian has not yet hit top gear in an injury-hampered 2012 campaign and this is the first chance he has had this term for a Stateside victory. The more battle-hardened leader is preferred.
JJ Henry will carry the local support, but usually wilts when in contention, while Dicky Pride won his only professional title in 1994 and the 42-year-old is a journeyman short on talent. Vijay Singh has been a fading force over the last year or so, Jonas Blixt looks an accident waiting to happen from tee to green, Marc Leishman has traditionally tightened up badly when in with a chance of a maiden triumph, and the rest are probably too far behind.
Pick of the final-round twoball prices is the 5-6 about Ernie Els outscoring Ken Duke. The Big Easy is a determined character at the moment, giving his all in every round, and the South African ace can outclass his playing partner on a course where he has won before.
At the same price, Texas boy Jimmy Walker is an attractive proposition on a track he knows extremely well against Andres Gonzales. He may have made a name for himself with a lavish beard and his aggressive tweets to Tiger Woods, but Gonzales is one of the poorest players on the circuit and always ripe for opposing.
J Dufner, 5pts 21-10 bet365
E Els, 3pts 5-6 Power
J Walker, 2pts 5-6 Power