Jason Dufner never had a chance to defend the Wanamaker Trophy, as a lingering neck injury caused him to withdraw from the 2014 PGA Championship on Thursday after playing just 10 holes.
The PGA Tour's official Twitter account reported on the development:
CBSSports.com's Eye on Golf had the footage of Dufner shaking hands with his playing competitors:
Here's Jason Dufner withdrawing - https://t.co/L0QLPKu7sP— Eye on Golf (@EyeOnGolf) August 7, 2014
That signaled the end of Dufner's tournament, which finished with a triple bogey on the par-five 10th hole at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ewan Murray of The Guardian recorded a quote from Dufner after he walked off the course:
Jason Dufner: "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."— Ewan Murray (@mrewanmurray) August 7, 2014
Will Brinson of CBSSports.com shared what the frustrated Dufner said to TNT:
Jason Dufner told TNT on playing next: “it could be 2 weeks…it could be next year, it could be never again …”— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) August 7, 2014
Helen Ross and Brian Wacker of PGATour.com had more from Dufner:
"I'll play golf again when I'm healthy," Dufner said before exiting the parking lot. "That could be at The Barclays, that could be next year, that could be 2016. I refuse to be out here and not be healthy and not give myself a chance to be competitive."
Dufner underwent an epidural and said his neck was feeling better on Wednesday, but he still expressed concern about the injury before he teed it up, per The Courier-Journal's Jennie Rees:
I've not been to the point at any moment this year of withdrawing or walking off the course or feeling like I couldn't play. The pain is just a state of mind. You can get through that. You can deal with that. I've never been in an amount of pain where you've got to pick me up off the ground. But it's been discouraging. I know that I'm not swinging the way I would like to swing, and I'm limited a little bit in what I can do.
Evidently, the bulging discs flared up for Dufner and rendered him unable to compete. It's a sad end to the year's final major, as Dufner has not had the 2013-14 season he was hoping for coming off the momentum of his maiden major win.
At the PGA Championship at Oak Hill last year, Dufner put on a ball-striking display for the ages, highlighted by a second-round 63 that vaulted him into the driver's seat to win the top prize. Staving off past FedEx Cup champions Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson down the stretch made Dufner's victory even sweeter.
Looking ahead, PGATour.com's Amanda Balionis noted how this injury to Dufner exacerbates the problems potentially looming for the USA Ryder Cup team:
DJ? Gone. Matt Kuchar? WD with a back injury.. Jason Dufner? WD with neck injury...Time to re-read the little engine that could #RyderCup— Amanda Balionis (@Amanda_Balionis) August 7, 2014
Dustin Johnson's leave of absence from golf, the ever-consistent Matt Kuchar's withdrawal from the PGA with a back injury and Dufner's ailment makes the USA's outlook at Gleneagles ominous. Combine that with the ongoing health battle Tiger Woods is waging since recovering from back surgery, and there isn't much guaranteed star power to be had on the American side.
As for Dufner's recovery, it could be a long road ahead, based on what Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman tweeted before the action commenced at Valhalla:
Jason Dufner hasn't played Valhalla yet b/c of bulging discs in neck. Needs 6-8 weeks off to heal but he wants to defend & make Ryder Cup— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) August 6, 2014
Between his prominent presence on social media, brilliant play on the course and unique, stoic countenance, Dufner is an irreplaceable player on tour. It seems unlikely that Dufner is done playing the game of golf, despite what he said in the heat of the moment to TNT.
If he is out for an extended period of time, his presence will be missed. It would also be a shame, because Dufner, 37, took a long road to stardom and is becoming undone by an untimely injury.
Dufner has the type of elite iron play to become a multiple major champion. Presuming he takes ample time to recover, he should eventually return to action and contend consistently at golf's biggest events. The key is for Dufner not to come back too soon and put himself at further risk, despite his admitted desire to qualify for the biennial Ryder Cup.