5 Things: Dufner picks up first Tour victory

Jason Dufner celebrates after defeating Ernie Els in a two hole playoff to win the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.

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Five things you need to know from the final round of the Zurich Classic:

1.) WINLESS NO MORE: Finally, Jason Dufner’s stellar game showed up on a Sunday. 

In position once again to capture his first PGA Tour title, Dufner made huge par putts on 16 and 17 in regulation, then two-putted for birdie on the second playoff hole to edge Ernie Els and win at TPC Louisiana. Consider it an early wedding present: The Duff will marry Amanda Boyd next Saturday. 

“A great wedding present for both of us,” said Dufner, who earned $1,152,000 for the win. “It helps with paying for the wedding, obviously. They’re a little more expensive than I thought or had imagined.”

(Check out his results since 2001 here)

The winning birdie capped an eventful final hour for Dufner, who was winless in his first 163 PGA Tour starts. His pursuit of a maiden victory appeared to be derailed by a wayward drive on the 16th -- which trickled into the mud in a hazard -- but he still managed to make par after draining a 43-foot putt. The next hole, he steadied himself to make a 6-footer for par. 

On the second playoff hole, the par-5 18th, Dufner reached the green in two and had a 60-foot putt for eagle. He nestled his first putt to within 2 feet for the victory. Dufner finished at 19-under 269.

“It was tough trying to get this first one; it’s been tough for six years,” Dufner, 35, said. “A little bit of a monkey off my back.”

Last year’s PGA runner-up has been one of the best players on Tour this season ... except on the weekend. He boasts a 69.05 scoring average this year in the first two rounds, good for second on Tour, but until the Zurich he hadn’t been able to duplicate that success on the weekend. Entering this week, his third- and final-round scoring average -- 71.50 and 71.88, respectively -- ranked 98th or worse.

But on Sunday, a final-round 70 was enough to get it done. 

• • • 

2.) WINNING’S NOT SO EASY: On Sunday, Ernie Els dealt with another disappointment in a season full of them. With a final-round 67 at TPC Louisiana, the Big Easy moved into position to end a two-year winless drought, but he missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole that would prove his best chance to win.

“I had a chance to win the tournament with a 6-footer and missed it,” Els said, “but I made quite a few putts on the back nine to keep myself in it. ... So there’s a lot of positives.”

Last month, Els, 42, nearly won the Transitions Championship in Tampa, but he bogeyed the final two holes and tied for fifth. He followed with consecutive top-12 finishes (Bay Hill, Houston), though that spring surge still wasn’t enough to push him into the top 50 in the world ranking. As a result, he failed to qualify for the Masters for the first time since 1994. 

Els held a two-shot lead at one point Sunday after a steely final round in which he played bogey-free and made several clutch par saves on the back nine. On the second extra hole, however, he drove into a fairway bunker, tugged his third shot from 143 yards onto the left fringe and couldn’t convert the birdie putt. 

• • • 

3. BACK ON TOP: All of the Official World Golf Ranking detractors received a satisfying result Sunday, with Luke Donald climbing back into the top spot with a third-place finish in New Orleans. (He needed a solo seventh finish or better.)

Two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy leapfrogged Donald to become the top-ranked player in the world despite being on vacation that week. Such is the downside, of course, of a two-year rolling formula.

“That’s a nice consolation,” said Donald, who closed with 65-66-67 to finish two shots back in New Orleans. “It’s been going back and forth a little bit. It was a little bit of a motivation to try and play well today.” 

How long will Donald stay atop the rankings this time? McIlroy is scheduled to play next week at Quail Hollow, where he won in 2010. 

• • • 

4. WELCOME BACK: Defending champion Bubba Watson, playing his first event since winning the Masters, shot 65-70 on the weekend to tie for 18th. 

This week started inauspiciously for Watson, as the big-hitting left-hander needed to birdie his 17th hole Friday just to make the cut on the number, at 2-under 142. 

Watson complained of fatigue during the first two rounds, the result of a whirlwind media blitz since winning the Masters on April 8. He already has withdrawn from next week’s event at Quail Hollow to spend more time with family.

“All in all, a pretty good week being tired ... all this different media attention, you know, all the stuff that comes with it,” Watson said. “It’s something you got to get used to. It wears on you, tires you out. Somehow, I’m in the top 20. A lot of guys wished they did that. Not a bad week.” 

• • • 

5. SHORT SHOTS: Steve Stricker, who had finished outside the top 13 only once in his past four starts here, was solo sixth at 15 under. ... Ryan Palmer’s T-4 was his best result since a playoff loss at last year’s Byron Nelson. ... Graham DeLaet, who was paired with Dufner in the final group, tied for fourth. It was his best finish on the PGA Tour since October 2010. ... Ernie Els has seven top-10 finishes since his last victory, the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational, a span of 43 starts. The longest winless drought of his career is 46 starts, between 2004-08.

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