Despite low-key celebration, Dufner thrilled to finally win

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April 29, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

AVONDALE, La. -- In the end, the celebration was as understated as Jason Dufner is. Two arms raised, barely to his shoulders, one holding his putter, the other clutching the ball that had just obediently traveled 19 inches and dropped into the cup. An almost shy smile as the crowd in the stands that surround the 18th green roared their approval.

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You didn't really expect anything else from Dufner, did you? But you had to be happy for the guy.

Six days removed from what is now sure to be an even more enjoyable wedding to his long-time girlfriend Amanda Boyd, Dufner is finally a winner on the PGA TOUR. It took 164 starts and two playoff holes at TPC Louisiana, but the 35-year-old finished off the Zurich Classic in style, beating World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els with that teeny, tiny birdie putt that had to have looked as wide as the nearby Mississippi River.

"Don't miss it, because this is to win," Dufner remembers thinking as he took a few extra seconds standing over that putt. He wanted to make sure to flush any doubts from the old gray matter and put the same kind of confident stroke on it he'd use playing with his buddies on a Tuesday back home in Auburn, Ala.

"Those thoughts go through everybody's head," Dufner said with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "How do you deal with it? How do you get out of it? How do you focus on what you need to do?"

In the last 12 months, Dufner has pondered those questions more than once. Until Sunday, though, he hadn't come up with the right answers.

Three times in his last 15 starts, and six times in his career, Dufner had owned the lead after two rounds on TOUR only to have someone else hoist the trophy. The most glaring meltdown was at last year's PGA Championship where Dufner lead by four on the back nine Sunday only to bogey Nos. 15, 16 and 17 and lose a playoff to Keegan Bradley. He was tied with one of his idols, Fred Couples, through two rounds of the Masters but closed with 75s to tie for 24th.

There were many, even some in his inner circle, who wondered why Dufner couldn't close the deal. He couldn't blame them, either.

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Projected points
Jason Dufner moved into a tie for ninth in the FedExCup standings with his win. Standings

"Not in a negative way but when you're leading tournaments going into weekends and you're finishing 24th there's going to be some questions," Dufner said. "So for me to get that kind of off my back, maybe this will jump start me and get me to start believing that I can compete out here on a week to week basis and win some of these things."

Els, for one, sees that happening. He says Dufner's stoic demeanor on the golf course "reminds me of myself back in the day." He likes Dufner's golf swing and the affable South African thinks there are more Sunday celebrations -- however understated -- in Dufner's future.

"I don't know how long he can keep it up, that wall, but he's doing a good job so far," said Els, who had a chance to end a two-year victory drought on the first playoff hole only to miss a 6-footer for birdie. "... He's got a wonderful golf swing and I think this will help him a lot. I think he'll win quite a few others. ... That's a pretty good defensive mechanism he's got there."

Dufner's expression didn't change Sunday. Not when he was standing over the final birdie putt or when he faced an improbable 44-footer to save par after hitting his tee shot into the water at the 16th hole for the first time in his career. When that putt dropped, granted, there was a slight hint of a smile as Dufner reached up to touch the brim of his cap to acknowledge the fans. But just barely.

"There's a lot of nerves out there," Dufner said. "I know it doesn't look that way with me but it's pretty stressful when you're trying to win or trying to shoot a low score and obviously I haven't had a great history in playoffs last year and (it) kind of goes through your mind, 'I'm in another playoff, am I going to be able to get this done?'"

Putting, Dufner was quick to admit, has been his nemisis during the litany of near misses. But this week at TPC Louisiana, where Dufner had tied for ninth, seventh and third in his three previous starts, he ranked second in total putts and sixth in strokes gained putting (after starting the week 108th on TOUR). He practically owned the 18th hole, too, with two birdies and an eagle in regulation before the clutch two-putt to end the festivities.

Rd. 4 Highlights

Watch the best shots from the final round.

"It's always really tough playing on Sundays whether you're in the lead or middle of the pack," Dufner said. "Today I was fighting, you know, trying to win an event and I think I showed myself a good bit out there. It was tough. ... Your mind is in a lot of different places right now when you win your first Tour event. It's hard for me to get a handle on all of it.

"I'm really, really excited and kind of to get the monkey off my back is a great feeling."

A pretty nice wedding present, too. After the Saturday nuptials, Dufner and his new bride will head for Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where the newly crowed champion will play in the PGA TOUR's signature event on another Pete Dye course where he tied for sixth last year.

"The honeymoon is going to be at THE PLAYERS Championship," Dufner said with a grin. "You ever been there? They've got an island green. Pretty cool."

Dufner is quick to point out the wedding date was a mutual decision. Get married in the spring and put the real honeymoon on hold -- Dufner is playing the next three weeks -- or have the wedding in the fall after which they would wisk away to parts unknown. After three years living with Dufner, Boyd was comfortable with the choice.

"I'm very lucky to have her," Dufner said. "She's very supportive and been a hundred percent behind me from day one with this golf thing. So I don't have many questions or doubts about that part of my life. That's for sure. (But) one foot putts, sometimes."

Just not on this particular Sunday.

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