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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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.