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Golf Tidbits: Dufner - The New Easy

Jason Dufner finally cracked a smile during the trophy presentation after winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last weekend.

That may have been the first show of emotion you've ever seen from the guy.

After a good shot, you might get a polite wave or tip of the cap, but never a smile. After a bad shot, nothing! Just a straight ahead glare.

The man he beat at the Zurich, Ernie Els, is known as the Big Easy. Even Els had to wonder how long Dufner could keep up the calm facade.

"I don't know how long he can keep it up, that wall, but he's doing a good job so far. Kind of reminds me of myself back in the day," Els joked on Sunday. "If he keeps that shield up, that's a pretty good defensive mechanism he's got there."

That is high praise from the Big Easy.

Dufner will surely be smiling a lot this weekend as he is getting married. Just don't expect him to smile very often on the course.

He freely admitted after the victory that his one-foot winning putt was more nerve-wracking than saying "I do" will be this weekend.

You would have never known it through his demeanor, but that was his first victory in his 164th career PGA Tour start.

He had suffered through five top-three finishes before collecting his first win. But, in all honesty, who didn't see this coming?

Dufner was the 36-hole lead at the Masters. Two weeks prior to that, he was one off the lead after two rounds at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He has been in contention this year, so you knew he'd break through sooner, rather than later.

His problem at those other two events were the final two rounds. Dufner posted 6-over 150 over the final two rounds of both events to slide from contention.

And that has been his problem all year. His scoring average rank gets worse as the week wears on.

Dufner has improved from sixth to second in first-round scoring average after starting with a 67 last week. He now shares fourth in second-round average.

But, it's all downhill from there. He is tied for 72nd place in third-round scoring average (71.00) and shares 98th in final-round scoring average (71.67).

Dufner closed with rounds of 67-70 at the TPC Louisiana. He has broken par four times in nine third rounds this year, and four times in nine final rounds.

Sunday marked just the second time this year he was under par in the both the third and final rounds at the same event. It was a problem last year as well.

In 2010, Dufner broke par in both weekend rounds just four times in 15 tries.

That begs the question: Is it his stamina or the pressure that gets to him?

With his stoic demeanor, you'd never know he felt pressure. Now that he has broken through with a victory, look for Dufner to not only improve his scoring average over the last two rounds, but his win total as well.

ELS ON THE CUSP

Els was the tough-luck loser to Dufner in New Orleans, but that doesn't mean Els isn't close to winning.

The South African has shot over par in just three of his last 27 rounds. Unfortunately for Els, two of those three were in the final round.

Els entered the final round three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but struggled to a 3-over 75. That also cost him a chance at victory and a spot in the Masters as he needed a solo third-place finish or better to get into the field for Augusta.

He tied for fourth at Bay Hill. It's hard to blame Els for the 75 that day as Woods was the only player in the final eight groups to break par in the final round.

At the Zurich, Els put himself in prime position for the win as he carded four rounds in the 60s for the first time all year on the PGA Tour.

Els failed to convert a five-footer for birdie and the win in the playoff after closing his round with seven straight pars. One birdie in that span and Els would have grabbed his first PGA Tour win since the 2010 Arnold Palmer.

The final round has been Els' nemesis this year as he ranks 87th in final round scoring average.

If he can straighten that out, the Hall of Famer will win again soon.

MINI-TIDBITS

* Lee Westwood's quest to get back to the top spot in the world rankings took a little bit of a hit earlier this week when his caddie, Billy Foster, injured his knee while playing soccer. Foster is off the bag this weekend, and is out for several weeks.

* One of the cool things about the U.S. Open is that it is truly open so long as a golfer has a handicap of 1.4 or better. There were over 9,000 entries for this year's Open. That number will be whittled down to a field of 156. Of those 9,000, how many really have a shot to win the title - 20, 30? Whatever, the number, there are sure to a few good stories out of the final field.