Blixt/Smith team leads after windy Friday at Zurich Classic

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AVONDALE – A blustery wind did little to alter the high-spirited mood of the golfers during Friday’s second round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at the TPC Louisiana.

The PGA’s only team event, which features two rounds of alternate-shot play and two rounds of best-ball, is the first of its kind in 36 years.

Paint it as a two-day success.

“It’s pretty good when you can play the course . . . and laugh and tell jokes,” said Cameron Smith, who along with partner Jonas Blixt, turned in a 10-under 62,  best ball round to move 15-under after two rounds.

That score over the 7,425-yard Pete Dye course, buffeted by winds gusting in the mid to high 20 mph range, was good enough to sit atop the leaders board.

Blixt (7th hole) and Smith (2nd) each had eagles on their back nines. They scored birdies on 13, 15, 16, and 17 heading out in the morning round.

Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed also shot 10-under Friday and nestled in on the leader board one stroke behind the Blixt-Smith team with 14-under par for the two rounds.

“We were pretty aggressive,” Cantlay said. “We both wanted to have two good looks on every hole, and for the most part we did. It was a good day.

“(The course) was a little tougher, but I think it’s set up for the wind,” he added. “The wind is really its only defense, and you can take advantage of the 5s still and some of the short 4s.”

At 13-under are South Koreans K.J. Choi and Charlie Wi, who combined for an 8-under 64 Friday and sit at 13-under for the tournament. Joining them at 13-under are Troy Merritt and Robert Streb, who went 10-under Friday.

Six other teams were 12 under headed into Saturday’s third round, which will revert back to alternate shot play. That group included first round leaders Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer who shot a 6-under 66 Friday.

“You know we weren’t really giving ourselves two putts for birdie on each hole, which is the key to best ball, said Spieth. “Just feel more comfortable when that’s the case when one of you is going to to close to making it or make it. That’s what we did on our last five holes.”

Closing strong, Spieth and Palmer birdied four of their last five holes.

“It felt like we really stayed positive,” Spieth said. “Ryan kept me positive. I was getting frustrated with myself not being able to any of those putts in.”

Among the group at 12-under are Charlie Hoffman and Nick Watney, who shot  a 7-under 65 Friday.

“It’s nice to know when you hit one out there you’ve got a partner to back you up,” said Hoffman. “It’s a fun format, but it’s not something I’d want to play every week. It’s a relaxing format . . . and we’re enjoying it.”

While the format remains a bit of a curiosity for the finest golfers in the world it likely represents also a bit of diversion smack in the middle of the grinding PGA tour, it also appears to be popular with New Orleans’ golf fans and the international golf media.

Traffic backed up near the entrances before 10 a.m. Friday and the parking lots were full early. During some interviews, the media has had to queue for advantageous spots.

“Based on the reaction of the spectators and players, It’s very much (a success),” Steve Worthy said Friday.  Worthy is CEO of the Fore!Kids Foundation, producers of the tournament. “The format appears to be enjoyable (for both).”

Worthy said Thursday’s opening round “was more like a Saturday turnout.” He added, “I know we parked a lot of cars today and I’m anxious to get the (attendance) count tonight.”

The spectators are attracted by the quality of the field. Seven of the world’s top 11 golfers are competing in New Orleans this weekend..

The genesis of the player-friendly format landing at Zurich began with Andy Pazder, Excecutive Vice-President and Chief of Operations of PGA TOUR Inc. Approvals and player buy in were needed, but it was obvious to one PGA official that it was a success from day one.

“The national and international media were paying attention to the Zurich as soon as it was announced,” the official said. “That has never happened before.”

Saturday’s third round returns to alternate shot play.

“It’s weird. I enjoyed (Thursday’s alternate shot) more, actually,” Hoffman explained Friday. “I don’t know why. (Thursday) was a lot of fun.”

His playing partner, Watney, agreed. “We had a little bit of stress . . . around the middle of the round. No bogeys around here when the wind is blowing, we’ll take it.”

Smith was confident 15-under could be the day’s best score, but reminded anyone listening, “It doesn’t really matter. It pretty much comes down to the back nine on Sunday to see if you are going to win or not.”

LEADERBOARD:

Blixt/Smith  67-62 15 under

Reed/Cantlay 68-62 14 under

Choi/Wi 67-64 13 under

Merritt/Streb 69-62 13 under

Stuard/Stroud 68-64 12 under

Cejka/Kjeldsen 70-62 12 under

Hoffman/Watney  67-65 12 under

Spieth/Palmer 66-66 12 under

Schauffele/Ridings 68-64 12 under

Stanley/Ruffels 66-66 12 under

Cabrera/Etulain 70-63 11 under

Duffner/Kizzire 69-64 11 under

Van Aswegen/Goosen 73-60 11 under

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Will Peneguy

Will Peneguy

Featured Columnist

Will Peneguy is a former reporter, columnist and Assistant Sports Editor at The Times-Picayune as well as the former Assistant General Manager of the Louisiana Superdome. He has won the prestigious Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year award from the National Sports Writers and Sportscasters Association and 27 other major writing awards. He has been a University instructor for more than 40 years. Today, Peneguy serves as chairman of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Media Selection Committee and previously served as a senior athletic administrator and as Associate Vice Chancellor at the University of New Orleans. He also contributes as a writer…

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