April 29 2012
AVONDALE, La. -- In the end, it took two extra holes and an almost anticlimactic 19-inch birdie putt.
But Jason Dufner finally is a PGA TOUR champion after beating World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els in a playoff Sunday at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
The victory came in Dufner's 164th start after several high-profile disappointments, including at the last two major championships. The 35-year-old took the lead at the midway point which had proven so problematic for him and never looked back, shooting 67 in the third round and closing with a solid 70.
"I am really, really excited and to get the monkey off my back is a great feeling," said Dufner, who had lost a four-stroke lead on the back nine of the PGA last year and was beaten by Keegan Bradley in a playoff.
Now Dufner can turn his attention to his wedding to Amanda Boyd, which takes place in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday. They are delaying the honeymoon so Dufner, who now ranks ninth in the FedExCup, can play the next three weeks, including at the PGA TOUR’s signature event, THE PLAYERS Championship.
Dufner is the eighth third-round leader or co-leader to go on to victory this season on the PGA TOUR. Prior to this week, though, Dufner ranked 108th on TOUR in final-round scoring average and he had not broken par on his last six Sundays.
Neither Dufner nor Els was able to birdie the 18th hole, a 570-yard par 5, in regulation to break what had become a match-play affair in the final hour. Dufner then missed a 7-footer for birdie there on the first playoff hole after reaching the green in two. Els was a foot closer after finding the greenside bunker with his second shot but missed, as well.
The playoff returned to the 18th hole for a second time and Dufner again reached the green with a 5-wood after Els had driven into the fairway bunker and had to lay-up. This time Dufner cozied his 59-footer for eagle to 19 inches.
Els' third shot had landed on the fringe, 19 feet from the pin, and when his last-ditch birdie putt veered right, all Dufner needed to do was tap-in for the win.
Els, meanwhile, was trying to win for the first time in his last 43 starts and the 19th time in his World Golf Hall of Fame career. Els actually owned a two-stroke lead when he eagled the seventh hole, then dueled Dufner shot-for-shot on the back nine to force the playoff.
Els, who is trying to break a two-year victory drought, now has finished fifth or better in three of his last five starts. His next chance will be at THE PLAYERS Championship in two weeks.