Jason Dufner Wins First PGA Tour Event in New Orleans

After six years and 164 starts without a win along with a playoff loss at last year's PGA Championship, Jason Dufner finally got his first PGA Tour victory Sunday at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.  

Dufner birdied the second hole of a sudden death playoff with Ernie Els, who again saw victory elude him by the narrowest of margins at TPC Louisiana.

Dufner and Els were tied at 19-under par after 72 holes of regulation play. Both parred the first playoff hole - the par 5 18th, with the Hall-of-Famer and two-time U.S. Open champion missing a 6-footer for the win.

On his second bite of the No. 18 apple, Dufner, 35, hit the green in two shots and left himself with a 40-foot putt not unlike the one he'd three-putted just minutes before.  

Meanwhile, Els pulled his tee shot into a fairway bunker, laid up to 130 yards, and wedged his third shot inches off the green and about 20 feet left of the hole.  Dufner lagged his first putt to tap-in range, Els missed his putt from the fringe, and Dufner walked away with the title, the trophy, and $1,152,000 - just in time for his upcoming wedding.  

Yes, Dufner's fiancee Amanda was in the gallery, possibly wondering whether to add some last-minute guests to the invitation list.

"I'm really, really excited," said the normally expressionless Dufner, who barely looks as if he has a pulse while playing golf - or talking to reporters.  "And kind of to get the monkey off my back is a great feeling."  

Dufner, who has made five appearances at the John Deere Classic and won a total of $154,000, claimed he actually was nervous during the playoff, outward appearances to the contrary.

"There's a lot of nerves out there," he said.  "I know it doesn't look that way with me but it's pretty stressful when your'e trying to win or trying to shoot a low score.  Obviously, I haven't had a great history in playoffs last year [he lost to Keegan Bradley last year at the PGA] and it kind of goes through your mind, "I'm in another playoff, am I going to be able to get this done?"

Els came close once again but fell just short despite taking the lead after making an eagle on No. 7.

"It's a disappointment especially when you have a putt to win the tournament, " said Els, referring to the 6-foot birdie putt on the first playoff, which he ran two feet past.  "I had a chance to win in the first playoff hole.  Tried to jam it in there and kind of pushed it a little bit."

Meanwhile, three-time John Deere Classic defending champion Steve Stricker shot a 2-under par 70 in the final round and finished solo sixth at 15-under par. Stricker made three birdies on the front nine to turn in 33, but barely missed several birdie putts on the back nine and bogeyed the 15th to shoot a frustrating 1-over 37.  He'll have to take consolation in beating 150 of the other players who teed off last Thursday.

Those who follow the Official World Golf Rankings will notice that Luke Donald has reclaimed the top spot from Rory McIlroy after the Northwestern graduate and Chicago area resident finished solo third at 17-under par following a final round 67.    Donald, who shot 65 and 66, respectively, on Friday and Saturday might have run away with the event had he not opened with a 73.

Dufner started the day with a two-shot lead and shot 2-under 70 in regulation.  Els shot 67 and was generally encouraged by his solid play.

Dufner's last victory before New Orleans came in Illinois.  He won the 2006 LaSalle Bank Open at the Glen Club in suburban Chicago as a member of the Nationwide Tour. 

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