Jason Dufner looks like the guy who always was picked last in schoolyard pickup games. In a rainbow, he would represent the color vanilla. At parties, he needs to wear plaids so as not to blend in with the wallpaper.
He’s that guy.
But as of Sunday, Jason Dufner has stature. He has earned a name on the PGA Tour. He won for the first time in 164 starts on the Tour, dismissing Tour legend Ernie Els on the second extra hole Sunday to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Dufner won $1.1 million for his victory. He has made the cut in 10 of 11 events this year, finishing in the top 25 seven times and the top 10 three times. He’s a big-timer now.
And you can make that argument that 35-year-old Jason Dufner, with a slight pot belly and a mustache so thin you might think he was a little sloppy with his navy bean soup, is among the best golfers in the world. He’s now fifth in Ryder Cup points, up from 14th last week. That puts him ahead of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. He’s ninth in FedEx Cup standings, ahead of Woods, Stricker and the world’s No. 1 player Luke Donald.
Get used to it, the kid has broken free from ‘oh, what’s-his-name.’ He’s sitting fat – $2 million in earnings this season – with a pretty hot girlfriend, Amanda Boyd, who he’ll be marrying Saturday. This guy is the answer to someone’s prayers.
“Maybe this will jump start me and, you know, get me to start believing that I can compete out here on a week to week basis and win some of these things,” Dufner said after sinking a 20-inch putt on the 18th green to seal the victory. “You know it takes a lot of pressure off me. Obviously lot of different things with exemptions and money lists and FedExCup Points and all that. I think it will be a lot — I feel a sense of relief now. Not that the season is over but I’m playing great golf. I got this win and I can kind of just focus on playing great golf now and not worry about winning a golf tournament.”
Some folks might remember Dufner’s name from a pair of past major disappointments. Last year Dufner led by four strokes on the back nine at the PGA but was beaten by Keegan Bradley in a playoff. He also tied for fifth at the 2010 PGA Championship.
Dufner’s on-course persona is defined by his undemonstrative personality. He’s unflappable. He shows virtually no emotion for a good shot or bad. He’ll glance at his yardage chart, dutifully select a club, waggle about eight times then put down a pretty consistent swing.
“There’s a lot of nerves out there,” Dufner said. “I know it doesn’t look that way with me but it’s pretty stressful when you’re trying to win or trying to shoot a low score and, you know, obviously I haven’t had a great history in playoffs last year and, you know, kind of goes through your mind, “I’m in another playoff, am I going to be able to get this done?”
“Once you get off to the tee and get going, you know, you kind of get comfortable a little bit. Obviously I got a second chance there with Ernie missing the putt on the first playoff hole and you know, I felt really comfortable on 18 all week. To get it on the green and two-putt put a little bit of pressure.”
Els, known as The Big Easy, said Dufner, “kind of reminds me of myself back in the day. “He’s a wonderful guy. I’ve played a lot of golf with Jason and obviously came close to winning a Major last year against Keegan and been close quite a few times.
“He’s got a wonderful golf swing and I think this will help him a lot. I think he’ll win quite a few others. He’s got a really sound golf swing and game. If he keeps that shield up, he’s got — you know, that’s a pretty good defensive mechanism he’s got there.”
It’s probably not unfair to say most of the fans watching were pulling for the 42-year-old Els. They know him. He’s already in the World Golf Hall of Fame. His storyline is he’s got a winless streak that goes back 43 events and 764 days. This year he failed to qualify for the Masters, ending an 18-year streak. Victory Sunday would have brought him back to Augusta next April.
But what has damaged Els’ winning opportunities that past couple years has been his putting. It failed again Sunday. He had the chance to win the tournament on the first playoff hole but pushed a 6-foot putt.
“I’ll go back to the drawing board but I think a lot (of positives), you know,” Els told the media. “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-9 to keep myself in it or pars and so forth. Hit the ball pretty well today, no bogies on the final round so there’s a lot of positives. The only thing is the win.”
He added that while he’s disappointed, he’s happy for Dufner.
“He’s got a great career,” Els said. “He’s getting noted by y’all and got a bit more cash to spend on his honeymoon.”
- The playoff was the 11th in the 63-year history of the Zurich Classic and the sixth on the Tour this season.
- The victory is Dufner’s fourth consecutive top 10 at the Zurich Classic. He finished T3 in 2011, T7 in 2010 and T9 in 2009.
- The last time Els was in a playoff was the 2004 British Open, losing to Todd Hamilton. It’s his 17th runner-up finish.
- Luke Donald, who finished third, has returned to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.
- With his T18, Bubba Watson narrowly missed taking over the FedEx Cup points from Hunter Mahan. He is now six points behind.
- Charles Howell III (T39) aced the 204-yard par-3 No. 9 with a six-iron. It was his fifth of Howell’s career and second in 2012 after making an ace on No. 7 in the final round of The Honda Classic in March.
Stacy Lewis no fluke
Stacy Lewis, whose only LPGA victory was a ‘major’, the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship, was determined to prove that was no fluke as she earned a narrow 1-stroke victory Sunday at at the 2012 Mobile Bay LPGA Classic.
She held off hard-charging 17-year-old rookie Lexi Thompson, who fired a 7-under 65.
Entering the day, Lewis had a two-shot lead and she built it to five strokes before Thompson closed it down. On the 15th, Lewis ended a streak of 24 holes without a bogey. She hit her second shot into the water to the left of the green and got up-and-down for bogey which put her in a
tie for the lead with Thompson, who had just birdied the 16th hole.
Lewis recovered and birdied the 16th hole to take a one-shot lead over Thompson. After a par on the 17th, Lewis needed to two-putt from around 30 feet on the 18th to secure the win.
“The second almost feels better than the first,” Lewis said. “I mean, it’s only been a year since
I won, but I felt like it’s been a long time since then, and I’ve worked really hard and it’s just nice to finally see some results of all the hard work.”
A year ago, this was the tournament that Thompson appeared on the verge of winning but shot a final-round 78 to finish T19.
“I wouldn’t take last year’s Sunday round back for anything because I learned so much from that,” Thompson said. “Then I went and won at Navistar, so I knew what not to do and how to prepare for it, so it was a big learning experience for me I wouldn’t take back that experience for anything.”
- Lewis earned 30 points toward the Rolex Player of the Year race, increasing total to 63 points and moving to third place. In Solheim Cup points, Lewis has a commanding lead with 212 points, 75 points ahead of second place Angela Stanford.
- This was Lewis’ fifth top-10 finish of the season.
- Lewis’ victory is the third win by an American on the LPGA Tour this year. The other American winners were Jessica Korda at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and Angela Stanford at the HSBC Women’s Champions.
- New mom Karine Icher, who gave birth to daughter Lola last August, recorded her best finish in nearly two years. She shot a 68 on Sunday to finish third.