Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
IRVING, Texas – A month ago, Jason Dufner was a single man still in search of his first PGA Tour victory.
Life has certainly changed for the 35-year-old golfer who last summer at the PGA Championship blew a four-stroke lead with four holes to play and lost in a playoff.
With a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the Byron Nelson Championship on Sunday, Dufner closed out a one-stroke victory over Dicky Pride to win for the second time in four weeks.
“You probably couldn’t dream it any better than what’s been going on here,” Dufner said. “The wedding has been in the works for close to a year, so we know that’s been coming around the corner. And there’s been a lot of good golf since then, but to win two events and get married in the span of 22 days, pretty remarkable.”
Dufner got his first victory April 29 at New Orleans, then got married the following week.
Now he already has won again, this time making $1.17 million and taking over the top spot in the FedEx Cup standings.
His closing birdie wrapped up a 3-under 67 round for an 11-under 269 to avoid a playoff with Pride.
Pride, whose only PGA Tour victory in a 20-year professional career came in 1994, was at 10 under with a par-saving 22-foot putt at No. 18 for a round of 67 after hitting his drive into the water.
Moments later, Dufner made a putt that was only a few feet longer but on virtually the same line.
“Apparently that was not a very difficult putt on 18, from the long right,” Pride said chuckling.
J.J. Henry, who had an early hole-in-one, was in the lead at 11 under after consecutive birdies at Nos. 15 and 16, overcoming a bad tee shot on the first and a greenside bunker on the second.
Pride made a 13-foot birdie at No. 17 right before Henry, in the final group with Dufner, hit a 7-iron over the par-3 green. The former TCU star lost the lead with a double bogey after a 4-foot putt slid just outside the cup.
“To be honest, I thought I hit a good shot on 17. I thought the wind was a little into me,” Henry said. “I hit the line exactly where I tried to, and it just carried about 6 or 7 yards too far.”
After watching Henry’s meltdown, Dufner made a tap-in par at No. 17 and then hit a big drive on No. 18 in the middle of the fairway. He hit a sand wedge to the middle of the green, then avoided a playoff with the long putt to join Hunter Mahan as the only two-time winners this season.
“I knew I was tied after I hit the tee shot,” Dufner said. “I knew if I made birdie that I would win, par would be a playoffs, but the playoffs aren’t much fun. My experience in them aren’t too great.”
While Dufner’s win at New Orleans came in a two-hole playoff against Ernie Els, he lost twice in playoffs last season, including to Keegan Bradley in the PGA Championship.
Joe Durant, who was the final alternate added to the Nelson field, shot a 65 to finish in a tie for third at 271 with Henry (68), Marc Leishman (66) and rookie Jonas Blixt (66).
Phil Mickelson, making his first Nelson start in five years, had four consecutive birdies on the front nine and went on to a round of 66 to finish four strokes back. He tied for seventh with Ken Duke, who also had a string of four birdies in a row in his own 66.
Pride let out a scream when his final putt dropped. Pride, who went to the University of Alabama, then watched the final group play the hole and applauded on the clinching putt by Dufner, who went to rival Auburn.
“Everybody is making a big deal about that,” Pride said of their college affiliations. “But he married a woman from Alabama to show him around.”
Matt Kuchar, the world’s fifth-ranked player who won The Players Championship a week earlier, had a 70 and finished at 276 in a tie for 15th. He was trying to become the first PGA Tour player since Tiger Woods in 2009 to win in consecutive weeks.
Henry’s ace came at the 154-yard No. 5 hole, when he hit a pitching wedge. When the ball rolled back into the cup, Henry thrust both of his arms in the air, then had an emphatic uppercut and he celebrated with the gallery.
After Henry’s drive at the 504-yard 15th was way right and under a tree, he hit his approach to the middle of the green and made a 32-foot birdie putt that led to another, though more subdued fistpump. His approach at the easier par-5 16th went in a greenside bunker, but he blasted inside 2 1/2 feet for a birdie to get to 11 under.
Dufner had consecutive bogeys at Nos. 2 and 3, but quickly responded with consecutive birdies on the following two holes.
After a bogey at No. 11 following a bad tee shot, Dufner got back to 10 under with his birdie at the par-5 16th, when he blasted out of a greenside bunker to 6 feet.
The last of Mickelson’s four birdies in a row came when he holed a 30-footer at the 461-yard eighth hole. That got the 10th-ranked player to 6 under at about the same time Dufner and Henry were finishing at No. 1, both at 8 under.
Mickelson was 8 under after a birdie at the par-5 16th, but his 3½-foot par putt at the following par 3 circled the cup and rolled back toward him for his first bogey of the day.
“I was certainly disappointed with not getting that birdie,” he said. “If I could get 17 or 18, get to 9 or 10 (under), you just never know.”