Dufner gets first career victory at Zurich

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.

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.

After entering the fourth round with a two-shot lead, Dufner shot a 2-under 70 at TPC Louisiana. Els had a 67 to match Dufner at 19-under 269.

After both players missed birdie putts within 8 feet on the par-5 18th, 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.

Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., entered the final round two strokes back of the lead. He had a bogey on the fourth hole but birdied on the 10th and 18th to card a 71 and finish tied for fourth at 16-under 272.

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.

The six-foot-three 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 event 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.

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.

Luke Donald shot a 67 to finish third at 17 under, and move past Rory McIlroy for the No. 1 ranking in the world.

David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., finished 10 under for the tournament after a 69 in the final round.

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.

Els and Dufner were even at 19 under after 11 holes. Els made par on each of his final seven holes of regulation and Dufner on his final eight.

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. He could not convert, however, pushing the ball about a foot past the right edge of the hole.

Entering the day three shots behind, Els began closing in with a birdies on the par-5 second hole and par-4 fifth hole.

Dufner then dropped a stroke when his 8-foot par putt missed by inches on the sixth hole, and Els vaulted into the lead on the par-5 seventh, which he began by belting a 318-yard drive that landed along the edge of the fairway. Els then smacked his second shot 230 yards, setting up an eagle putt that he drained from just more than 8 feet to briefly put him a shot ahead of Dufner at 18 under.

Dufner pulled even with a birdie on the seventh and another on the par-4 eighth, when his 104-yard approach shot landed less than 5 feet from the pin. He then made a birdie putt from just under 11 feet on No. 10 to improve to 19 under.

Just ahead of him, Els chipped to about 4 feet from the pin to set up a birdie on the par-5 11th, lifting him back into a tie.

Els worked his way out of trouble on the 12th, hitting out of the bunker and making a nearly 10-foot putt to save par. He made another 10-foot par putt on the par-3 14th after his tee shot had rolled off the back of the green.

Dufner made an 8-foot par putt to stay even through 14. He then 200-yard approach shot out of a difficult lie on the edge of a bunker to about 33 feet from the pin on the par-4 15th

Dufner hit into the mud on the edge of a water hazard, about 15 feet away from an alligator. He would have had place at least one foot in the water to get a swing at it, so he took a drop instead. He hit his next shot about 44 feet to the right of the pin, setting up a difficult par putt that he still managed to make, offering a matter-of-fact tip of the cap as the crowd roared around the green.

Els, meanwhile, made a 14-footer on the par-3 17th.

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