Zurich Classic 2013: Jason Dufner set to defend title in The Big Easy

Chris Graythen

Jason Dufner hopes to become the fifth player to go back-to-back in New Orleans.

Jason Dufner got off the schneid when he earned his first PGA Tour win in his third year as a full-time tour member with a playoff win over Ernie Els at last year’s Zurich Classic. Now, the owner of two tour victories within a three-week period in 2012 hopes to break a streak of nine events in 2013 without a top-10 finish and repeat his heroics of last year in New Orleans.

“Winning the Zurich Classic and winning it here will always have a special place in my heart. It was my first one,” Dufner told The Advocate earlier this month. “I look back now at that stretch of golf and say, ‘Did I really play that well for that extended period of time?’’’

The 36-year-old, whose fame spread far beyond the golf course when his “Dufnering” craze went viral earlier this year, has missed two cuts in seven events, with a T12 in February’s WGC-Cadillac Championship his best result so far in 2013. Last year was a different story for the Cleveland native.

Dufner’s hectic 2012 included those two wins, just one missed cut, eight top-10 finishes, a standout 3-1 record in his rookie Ryder Cup stint, nearly $5 million in on-the-course winnings, and marriage in May to his long-time girlfriend Amanda Boyd.

“It was a whirlwind year for me,’’ said Dufner, who enters the week for the first time as a defending champion on the PGA Tour. “There have been a lot of changes in my life. It’s been exciting and challenging at the same time. I have fulfilled my dreams and answered some questions I’ve had about myself.”

Dufner noted that, as a multiple winner, he has had to balance his schedule between golf and life. Among the close friends from whom he has sought counsel regarding how to budget his time has been three-time major champion Vijay Singh. The 2004 New Orleans winner missed the cut at last week’s RBC Heritage and is not in the field at TPC of Louisiana -- but not, apparently, because he’s been suspended for using deer-antler spray.

Executive VP of communications Ty Votaw told Jason Sobel on Monday that the tour had yet to determine what punishment, if any, to mete out to Singh for his admitted use of the essence, which contains a banned substance.

Dufner, by the way, will play the first two rounds this week with two other Zurich Classic champions -- 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson and Nick Watney. Els will take his belly putter, and a determination to better his 2012 runner-up status, to the course with Rickie Fowler and Michael Thompson.

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