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Dufner confident in game heading to Colonial

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

By STEPHEN HAWKINS

AP Sports Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Jason Dufner has won twice in the last four weeks after never winning before on the PGA Tour, yet has struggled at the Colonial.

With the confidence in his game right now, after wins at New Orleans and the Byron Nelson Championship while getting married in between, maybe Dufner can finally have success at a difficult course he has always liked.

"Pretty much every time I step on the tee this year, wherever I am at, whatever round it is, I feel like I could play a good round," Dufner said. "That's kind of what my practice and preparation has put me; prepared me for is to feel comfortable ... that my game is in good shape. And I don't need to do crazy and special things to shoot good scores."

Dufner isn't the only player feeling good about his game going in the opening round Thursday in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

The field includes Hunter Mahan, No. 2 behind Dufner in the FedEx Cup standings and the only other two-time winner this season. There are Zach Johnson and David Toms, the past two Colonial champions, and 24-year-old Rickie Fowler, who in his last two starts got his first PGA Tour win along with a runner-up finish at The Players Championship.

Johnson has made the cut in all 12 tournaments he has played this year, though he hasn't won since slipping on the Colonial plaid jacket two years after a tournament-record 21-under 259 total.

The 45-year-old Toms, coming off a 15th-place tie at Quail Hollow and 10th-place tie at The Players, got his only victory since 2005 last year at Hogan's Alley.

"It's a special week for me. It's always been a tournament that I loved to play, and over the years, I had a lot of good finishes. But to finally get a victory, it was just awesome really," Toms said. "Obviously, I haven't had a result this year that I would like. But that's the way golf is. It kind of goes in cycles. I'm hoping to build upon what I've done the last couple of tournaments and get myself into position."

Toms won at Colonial in his 14th try. Johnson won his fifth time, the victory coming in the middle of his current streak of three top-10 finishes at Colonial.

"I do enjoy coming back here. Certainly the obvious fond reasons, playing well," said Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion. "I think more than that I really enjoy this golf course. I think it requires the right kind of golf. I think it separates the field. If you are off, it will expose that. If you are on, I think you can climb the leaderboard. ... A lot of tradition, a lot of history here, it's good to be part of that."

When they tee off at No. 1, Toms and Johnson can see their names on the Wall of Champions with the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

Tiger Woods' name isn't there. His only appearance at the par-70 course was 15 years ago, when he tied for fourth.

Phil Mickelson is a two-time Colonial champion, in 2000 and 2008. He withdrew as the defending champion in 2009 after his wife's breast cancer diagnosis, then missed the cut last year with rounds of 71 and 73.

Mickelson isn't back this year, indicating last week while at the Byron Nelson Championship that the Colonial course doesn't suit his game any longer following some changes made there since his last victory.

Fowler took a break last week after his overly successful three-week stretch. He was 10th at New Orleans before winning at Quail Hollow and then finishing tied for second at The Players.

"I definitely feel a little bit more free, playing I guess with a little less pressure. Obviously feeling really good about my game mentally and physically," Fowler said. "It's been fun to kind of relive 18 at Quail Hollow, and I can't wait to get my seconds."

Fowler is at Colonial for the third time, improving from a 38th-place tie in 2010 to a 16th-place tie a year ago.

Dufner has played the Colonial three times before. He tied for 59th place in 2009, but missed the cut in 2007 and again last year.

But so much has changed for Dufner since his second-round 6-over 76 at Colonial last May. There was the runner-up finish in a playoff at the PGA Championship after blowing a four-stroke lead with four holes to play, then the two recent victories.

"Just from the mental side of it, just the experiences that I have had since last August, I think, has made me a better player," he said. "It made me realize some things. It made me maybe prove to myself some things that maybe I thought weren't possible that I could do out here. I think all of that will help me in the long run definitely."

Updated May 23, 2012

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