From the Coach’s Office: Another dramatic Zurich Classic finish
AVONDALE, La. – The New Orleans PGA TOUR event has historically had some dramatic pitch-in finishes.
The first time was in 1965 when Dick Mayer pitched the ball into the hole on the 18th at Lakewood Country Club. A second occurred when David Frost pitched the ball in from the front bunker at English Turn. The third happened Sunday at the 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.
With a dramatic pitch-in for eagle on the final hole, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in its new team format is going to an extra day. The teams of Jonas Blixt and partner Cameron Smith finished tied with Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown at 27-under par 261 setting up a sudden death playoff Monday morning at 8am.
A playoff awaits at the @Zurich_Classic.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 1, 2017
It was a tale of two halfs with a long weather delay in the middle.
It was obvious before the day started that making birdies in difficult conditions would be the order of the day in the four-ball (best ball) final round of the Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana in Avondale. Someone had to put early pressure on 54-hole leaders Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith and that is exactly what happened.
The pair of Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown took the initiative with birdies on their first six holes to take the lead. Fifty-four hole leaders Blixt/Smith had only one birdie, on the fifth hole, to fall one stroke behind through six.
Kisner was particularly hot over the opening six holes. After Brown birdied the first, Kisner proceeded to birdie the next five holes.
Then the horn sounded at 10:03am as the bad weather moved in. The estimate at that time was that it would be a substantial delay. Every effort was going to be made to complete play Sunday.
The weather system broke the day into two events, pre-storm and post-storm. Momentum of the early fast starters could be broken with a long delay.
When the horn to suspend play sounded, Kisner and Brown had just taken the lead at 21-under par with their sixth consecutive birdie on the tough par 4 sixth hole. Blixt/Smith had continued their bogey-free ways at -20. The teams of Jaon Dufner/ Patton Kizzire and Kelly Kraft/KevinTway were another three shots back at -17.
Defending Champion Brian Stuard with Chris Stroud stood alone at -16. Stuard/Stroud got off to a fast start with birdies on 2, 3 and 4 before leveling off with three pars through seven holes.
While other teams battled to get into contention, it became a two team race with no one getting closer than two shots on the final nine.
After a 6 hour 22 minute delay, the horn sounded at 4:25 to resume play.
During the delay I knew that the weekend was now complete: Sean Payton got to trade up in the draft and there was a weather delay at the Zurich Classic.
At this point the course was defenseless with soft conditions and low wind. Before the weather system came in winds were constantly over 20 miles-per-hour with higher gusts. As the players began after the delay the winds were down to 12 mph and declining throughout the late afternoon.
After their first par on nine after eight birdies, Scott Brown got the team back on the birdie train with a short putt at 10. Blixt/Smith matched their birdie to stay two shots back at -22.
While several other teams were doing very well, there was very little chance that the leaders would back up to the pursuers with the conditions so conducive to scoring. The winds continued to stay down and the softness of the course led to many precise approach shots. At this point the TPC of Louisiana was defenseless.
The two teams matched birdies at the par 5 eleventh hole to continue to separate from the field. At -25 Kisner/Brown was still two shots ahead of Blixt/Smith at -23. The next closes pursuers were at -19.
Thing started to turn on 12 as Blixt/Smith birdied to go to -24 and gain a shot on Kisner/Brown who made only their second par of the day.
Both Kisner/Brown and Blixt/Smith pared the 13, 14 and 15 to remain one shot apart.
Sixteen became the pivotal hole in the tournament as Jonas Blixt put his approach five feet from the hole while both Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown had birdie putts of 19 and 27 feet respectively. Both missed their birdies while Blixt ran his straight in the hole to tie the tournament lead at 25 under par.
It was also at this point that it was obvious that the tournament would have to battle darkness.
The 17th hole today only played at 150 yards with a front left pin position. Early in the day it was very difficult with a strong left headwind. Now it was benign with no wind.
Blixt hit it to three feet while his partner Smith hit it to five feet. Brown left himself a 21 foot 5 inch putt from the fringe short and right of the hole while Kisner put it on the wall to the left of the green 38 feet away in the hazard. Kisner and Brown both missed while Cameron Smith knocked in the birdie to take the lead.
After 10 birdies in their first 11 holes, Kisner/Brown had now pared six holes in a row.
There were major fireworks on the par 5 finishing hole. Cameron Smith, who has not qualified for THE PLAYERS in two weeks, hit a spectacular pitch shot from 57 yards to 1’ 6” for an almost sure birdie. Kevin Kisner had to make his pitch shot for eagle from 94’6” to tie. That is just what he did, the ball banging against the pin with good speed yet falling into the cup.
After Blixt missed his birdie putt, Smith held up his end by finishing his short birdie putt.
In the final round Blixt and Smith shot 30 on the back nine for an eight-under par 64 while Kisner and Brown fired a 12-under par 60.
Kisner/Brown had the second 60 tying for the low round of the tournament. Retief Goosen and Tyrone Van Aswegen did the same in the second round.
The sudden death playoff will be best-ball starting at 8:00am on the 18th hole. The progression of the playoff holes is 18 – 18 – 9 and 18 until a winner is determined.
There will be free admission but no concessions will be offered.