AVONDALE, La. — Jason Dufner beat Ernie Els with a birdie on the second hole of a playoff Sunday in the Zurich Classic to win for the first time in 164 starts on the PGA Tour.
Entering the fourth round with a two-shot lead, Dufner shot a 2-under 70 at TPC Louisiana, while Els had a 67 to match Dufner at 19-under 269.
Both missed birdie putts within 8 feet on the par-5 18th in the first playoff, so they went back to the 18th tee for the second extra hole, which Dufner won by hitting the green in two strokes and tapping home a short birdie putt after Els’ birdie attempt from the fringe narrowly missed.
Dufner lost playoffs last year to Mark Wilson in the Phoenix Open and Keegan Bradley in the PGA Championship for two of his three career runner-up finishes.
“It’s always really tough playing on Sundays whether you’re in lead or middle of pack, and today I was fighting, trying to win event, and I think I showed myself a good bit out there,” Dufner said. “It was tough. Ernie made a great run at me and it felt like with five or six holes (to go) we were probably going to be battling for the win.
“To get the monkey off of my back, it’s a great feeling.”
The 6-foot-3 Els, who goes by the nickname “The Big Easy,” hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a little more than two years ago.
He did not have a single bogey in the final round or playoff, and would have won his 19th career PGA Tour title in, of all places, the Big Easy, if he could have made a birdie putt of a little less than 6 feet on the first playoff hole. He pushed it more than 2 feet past the edge of the hole.
“It was a nice little charge I made and, you know, nice to catch the leader,” Els said. “I had a chance to win the tournament with a 6-footer and missed it, but I made quite a few putts on the back nine to keep myself in it. ... Hit the ball pretty well today — no bogeys on the final round — so there’s a lot of positives.”
On the second playoff hole, Els’ tee shot went into a fairway bunker, and his second shot landed 137 yards from the pin. His third shot landed on the fringe, nearly 19 feet from the pin, but he nearly saved birdie from there, his putt missing by 2 inches.
Dufner then made his birdie putt from less than 2 feet, and in his typically low-key way, briefly raised both arms to acknowledge the cheering crowd before casually walking off the green to accept some congratulatory hugs.
Dufner said his primary emotion was relief when he finally had a Tour victory and conceded that he was more nervous about that last putt than getting married next weekend to his fiancee, Amanda Boyd, who watched the win, teary-eyed, from behind the green.
“Great wedding present for both of us. It helps with paying for the wedding, obviously,” said Dufner, who earned $1,152,000. “They’re a little more expensive than I thought or had imagined. ... It’ll be a big celebration not only for our marriage but also for my first victory out on the Tour.”
Luke Donald shot a 67 to finish third at 17 under, and move past Rory McIlroy for the No. 1 ranking in the world.
“That’s a nice consolation,” Donald said, adding that the rankings could change again when he takes next week off and McIlroy is expected to play. “It’s been going back and forth a little bit. Rory’s turn next week. ... It was a little bit of a motivation to try and play well today.”
Defending Zurich Classic champ Bubba Watson, playing for the first time since a life-changing win at the Masters over Easter weekend, entered the final round eight shots off the lead. He was unable to mount a charge after bogeys on his first two holes. He wound up tied for 18th at 11 under, a solid outing by most standards, but one of his worst finishes of the year.
“All in all, pretty good week being tired, coming back for the first time after winning the Masters, all this different media attention,” Watson said. “It’s something you got to get used to. (It) wears on you, tires you out.”
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