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Dufner has a breakthrough; Beats Els in two-hole playoff

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

"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 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 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 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 the 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.

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."

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

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Around the greens

*Stacy Lewis won the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic for her second LPGA Tour title, holding off hard-charging teen Lexi Thompson by a stroke in Mobile, Ala. Lewis' week was so solid that her finishing 3-under 69 was her worst round en route to a 17-under 271 total. The former Arkansas star also won the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

*Rosie Jones won the Legends Tour's season-opening Walgreens Charity Classic, finishing with a 4-under 68 for a two-stroke victory over Elaine Crosby in the 36-hole event in Sun City West, Ariz. Liselotte Neumann and Jan Stephenson tied for second at 2 under.

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