By Brian Allee-Walsh, PGATOUR.COM correspondent
AVONDALE, La. -- The ability to remain composed under the most stressful conditions usually serves as a dependable 15th club in Jason Dufner's bag on the PGA TOUR.
He is cool as the inside of an USGA-approved aluminum golf cup, unflappable as the day is long, armed with nerves of steel.
Most of the time.
"Being even-tempered is a tool I definitely can use in any tournament,'' the defending Zurich Classic of New Orleans champion said on the eve of this year's event which tees off Thursday at TPC Louisiana.
"But if you had been watching me play earlier this year that wasn't one of my strongest points.''
Point well taken.
In his first seven tournaments, Dufner missed two cuts with his best finish a tie for 12th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in late February. Since missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in mid-March, Dufner tied for 20th at the Masters and tied for 35th at the RBC Heritage.
Poor drives at Augusta National and a bogey-filled back nine in the third round at Harbour Town sabotaged his chances of winning.
He stands 74th in the FedEx Cup race with 284 points.
"We played in a lot of wind earlier in the year and I got into a position with my golf swing where my club face was a little bit shut on the back swing, which really didn't allow me to do what I wanted to do on my downswing,'' Dufner said Wednesday before inclement weather delayed his pro-am appearance.
"I'm just trying to clean that up a little bit.''
By comparison, he won twice in 2012 (also the HP Byron Nelson Championship), missed only one cut in 22 events, posted a 3-1 record in his first Ryder Cup, pocketed nearly $5 million in prize money and finished second in the FedExCup standings.
All this sandwiched around a May wedding to his longtime girlfriend, Amanda Boyd.
"Yeah, it was a whirlwind year for me,'' Dufner said. "There have been a lot of changes in my life. It's been exciting and challenging at the same time. I have fulfilled my dreams and answered some questions I've had about myself.
"I've been looked at as Jason Dufner the golfer more than ever before.''
With good reason, the 36-year-old native of Cleveland has game.
In 2011, he gave an inkling of things to come after finishing second to Keegan Bradley in a three-hole aggregate playoff in the PGA Championship. Last year, Dufner broke through with his first two wins on TOUR in a span of three weeks, first defeating Ernie Els on the second playoff hole in New Orleans, then winning the Byron Nelson on the 72nd hole in Irving, Texas.
Eight top-10 finishes and 14 top-25 finishes rounded out his banner season, and he was ranked No. 9 in the world ranking. He currently ranks 20th in the latest world rankings.
"I learned a lot about myself,'' Dufner said. "In fact I surprised myself by how well I played from the end of 2011 through last year. It's tough to win out here, real tough, and I've played some of my best golf out here and not won. But you never know for sure about where you stand until you do it.
"That's why winning the Zurich Classic and winning it here will always have a special place in my heart. It was my first one. I look back now at that stretch of golf and say, 'Did I really play that well for that extended period of time?' ''
And the answer is yes.
"I feel like my game is coming around,'' Dufner said. "I never feel like I'm too far away from playing well. All it really takes is a hot putter out here and you'll be scoring well.''
Justin Rose would second that opinion, acknowledging that area of his game has helped him carve out 12 consecutive top-25 finishes, including the last 11 events played on the PGA TOUR. He also tied for 10th in the 2012 Zurich Classic, his best finish in five appearances at the 7,341-yard Pete Dye layout.
"I can putt well; I do putt well but that area of my game hasn't been as consistent as the rest of it,'' said Rose, who is No. 4 in the latest world rankings. "That's the next level for me.
"I've made a decision this week to be more positive about my putting. I set a record not too long ago at Bay Hill of six-plus strokes gained in my first round, so it's all there. Like I said, I just got to keep believing in it.''
NOTES: Robert Garrigus and Freddie Jacobson (hip) withdrew Wednesday and will be replaced by Billy Mayfair and Gary Christian ... TPC Louisiana general manager Luke Farabaugh said 1.5 inches of rain fell on the course Wednesday, pushing the monthly total to 10.5 inches. "The turf is perfect,'' Farabaugh said. "Other than a few bunkers having to be pumped out, the golf course will be in good shape. We were bracing for 70 mph winds and hail but neither happened.'' ... Besides Dufner, past Zurich Classic champions in this year's include Bubba Watson (2011), Jason Bohn (2010), Jerry Kelly (2009), Andres Romero (2008), Nick Watney (2007), K.J. Choi (2002) and David Toms (2001).