Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Golf

Defending PGA champ Jason Dufner withdraws

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Defending champion Jason Dufner, suffering from a neck injury and struggling just to swing a club, pulled out of the PGA Championship just past the midway point of the opening round Thursday.

After making triple-bogey 8 on the 10th hole, he shook hands with playing partners Y.E. Yang and Keegan Bradley, a good friend, and returned to the locker room.

"There's no point to be out there hacking it around," he said before climbing into a courtesy car alongside wife Amanda and driving away from Valhalla Golf Club. "It's just pointless."

Dufner has been coping with two bulging discs in his neck since the Masters in April. He has tried to play through the pain and had an injection before playing in the Bridgestone Invitational last week. But he said the worsening pain coupled with "fatigue, tightness in the shoulders and a dead arm" finally convinced him to walk off the course.

Dufner didn't think much of his chance of a quick return. "It could be next month, next year, 2016," he said, "but not until I'm healthy."

How did I get here? Kevin Chappell still isn't certain how he got invited to the PGA Championship. He and his wife were in a grocery store in Nevada 10 days ago, making plans for how to spend a week off during the final major of the year. That's when his agent forwarded him an email from the PGA of America congratulating him on being part of the field. "I wanted to know how — or why," Chappell said after opening with 6-under 65 to share the lead with Lee Westwood and Ryan Palmer.

This has been a mediocre year by his standards. His only top-10 finish is at the Colonial (tie for 10th). He was not eligible or did not qualify for any other major. The PGA Championship tries to assemble the top 100 players from the world ranking. Chappell was No. 104. Turns out the PGA of America is so determined to get everyone from the top 100 in that through various criteria, it ended up inviting the top 109.

Together again: Thursday's early tee time with 2008 PGA champion Padraig Harrington marked only the 32nd time Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson played together on the PGA Tour. Their scrambling rounds left Mickelson at 2-under 69 and Woods at 3-over 74. Mickelson posted two of his five birdies on his final three holes to resurrect a round that sat at 2 over through eight. "I wasn't worried," he said. "My game finally has kind of come together, and the confidence just needs to slowly come with it."

Kuchar out: Matt Kuchar withdrew because of back spasms.

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