By James Dalthorp
GolfWRX Staff Writer
Two weeks ago in the first round at Hilton Head, Jason Dufner had one of those moments where a lot of golfers may have lost their cool. After waiting for two groups to hit on the 14th tee, the 35-year-old dunked his tee shot on the par 3 into the water and walked to the 15th tee at 8-over for the round.
Up to that point, the big picture may have seemed clear but the future? Cloudy. To recap his year: Three 18 or 36 hole leads on Tour in 2012 resulted in only a best finish of 8th place over two months where his name led some of golf’s biggest events. The Masters, The WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral and The Transitions. His weekend scoring average, ranked outside of the top 100 on Tour, consisted of eight over-par rounds in 10 events. Among other records haunting him, a five shot lead blown in three holes at the 2011 PGA Championship. Back to Hilton Head, he birdies the next hole — then plays his next 44 holes with no bogeys and nine birdies on one of golf’s toughest tests. He finished T24. One great April Sunday afternoon deserved another – and new scenery at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans would be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Dufner won a two-hole playoff with Ernie Els after a two-putt birdie on the par five 18th at TPC Louisiana. It’s his first career professional win, eradicating him of the label “only player ranked in the top 50 in the world without a win.” This week caps a remarkable journey for the Dufner camp. Just a week from his win, he is due to be married near his alma mater Auburn University to his fiancée, Amanda.
Dufner tied Ernie Els in regulation at 19-under with 67-65-67-70. The par-72 TPC Louisiana layout yielded its lowest 72-hole total since it was hosted at the club in 2005. Dufner held off the two-time U.S. Open champion Els, among others, with some remarkable shots under pressure.
Tied for the lead on the 70th hole, a hooked 3 wood left Dufner in the water hazard, forcing him to drop. A missed wedge left him with 43 feet for par – and Dufner drained it with the composure that makes him one of the coolest customers in the game. Els saved his own par at the 17th, but both players parred in to keep things tied – even with birdie attempts on the par 5 18th. Dufner won on the second playoff hole with a two-foot putt after Els missed the 18th fairway, forcing a lengthy birdie putt from the fringe to have a chance. A short putt later, the normally stoic Dufner raised his arms in celebration.
“The Zurich Classics always been one of my favorite stops here on Tour. I’ve had some really nice results here. To get my first victory out here on the PGA Tour, it means a lot to me. To do it here in New Orleans, at the Zurich Classic, is a great thing. To know I’ll be coming back here as a defending champion next year and for years to come coming back here as a champion is a really big honor for me.”
Dufner has had solid finishes here in the past. T3 in 2011, T7 in 2010, T9 in 2009.
“It’s just a very comfortable spot for me.”
Dufner will get married in Alabama and then play the next three events, a honeymoon planned later in the year. Dufner said he feels a lot of relief from the win, and that he’s looking forward to focusing on playing good golf. He will compete the following three weeks of his marriage at the Players Championship, Byron Nelson Classic, HP Byron Nelson Classic, and Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
James Dalthorp covers the PGA Tour full-time for www.Golfmanna.com and assists CBS Sports productions. You can follow him on Twitter @jd3golf