Dufner tops Els in Zurich playoff for first win

By Associated PressApril 29, 2012, 10:56 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Jason Dufner was more nervous about a putt under 2 feet on a playoff hole at the Zurich Classic than about getting married next weekend. His recent late-tournament struggles made it easy to understand why.

''There's a been a good bit of pressure,'' Dufner said. ''People talking about, 'Why aren't you winning? Why can't you close the deal? ... Friends, family, media, even people in my inner circle. And not in a negative way, but when you're leading tournaments going into weekends and you're finishing 24th, there's going to be some questions.''

Not anymore.

Dufner maintained his composure through not one, but two playoff holes against one of the more accomplished veterans in the game Sunday, beating Ernie Els with a birdie on their second extra trip up the par-5 18th to win for the first time in 164 starts on the PGA Tour.

The win should also stamp out some of the bad memories haunting Dufner since the Masters, when he shared the lead after two rounds but faded to 24th. The 35-year-old Dufner also held five previous leads through two rounds – two this year, only to fade down the stretch.

Entering the fourth round with a two-shot lead in New Orleans, Dufner shot a 2-under 70 at TPC Louisiana, while Els had a 67 to match Dufner for a course-record 19-under 269 total.

Both missed birdie putts within 8 feet 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 shortbirdie 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 the lead or middle of the pack, and today I was fighting, trying to win an 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, including from fiancee Amanda Boyd.

''It's awesome. He's been so close so many times. I don't feel like it's real,'' Boyd said. ''It will be a good wedding.''

After becoming the seventh player to take his first career PGA Tour triumph in New Orleans since 2002, Dufner called it a ''great wedding present for both of us.''

''It helps with paying for the wedding, obviously,'' added 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. Somehow I finished - I'm in the top 20. A lot of guys wished they did that.''

Els and Dufner were tied at 19 under after 11 holes. Els made par on each of his final seven holes of regulation. Dufner made par on his final eight, none more difficult than on 16, when he hit into water, but salvaged par with a 44-foot putt.

Els' 17-foot birdie putt on 18 missed by about an inch, opening the door for Dufner to win in regulation if he could birdie the 585-yard hole to cap his fourth round.

While Els was on the practice green preparing for a possible playoff, Dufner chipped on to set up a potential winning putt from 10 1/2 feet.

Although he could not convert, pushing the ball about a foot past the right edge of the hole, he made up for it in the playoff.

Now it's on to his wedding in Auburn, Ala., though honeymoon plans are a little unclear and may be on hold until after the British Open.

''The honeymoon is going to be at The Players Championship,'' Dufner joked about the event in two weeks at TPC Sawgrass. ''They got an island green. Pretty cool event.''

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."