Planet Golf — 23 April 2021 by GW staff and news services
Leishman/Smith win Zurich playoff

AVONDALE, La. — Team golf on Sunday at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans was sensational at times, a tidal ebb and flow of momentum between a talented Aussie tandem and a seasoned and gritty pair from South Africa. Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, representing Oz, and their counterparts from South Africa, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel – Presidents Cup teammates all – put on a show to the end, and were enjoying every second of the grand theater.

And then one bad swing leading to an errant tee ball on the first extra hole in foursomes (alternate-shot), and pretty much the music stopped. Oosthuizen had been a machine off the tee all day, but he stepped up first and pumped a driver right on the 570-yard finishing hole, into water, requiring Schwartzel to reload from the tee. They would make double bogey. Smith and Leishman were able to make a conservative par on the hole, and Zurich’s championship belts, hard-earned, were theirs to celebrate.

Smith, who won this event in 2017 alongside Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, his Florida neighbor, joined Leishman to shoot a closing 2-under 70 in Sunday foursomes, which was one shot better than the South Africans. The teams played off at 20-under 268 after two rounds of four-ball (Thursday/Saturday) and two rounds of foursomes (Friday/Sunday).

Oosthuizen, 38, and Schwartzel, 36, had entered the day with a one-shot lead over the Aussies, who started 18 under alongside Tony Finau and Cameron Champ, who would struggle on Sunday, shooting 76. Schwartzel ran in a 15-footer for birdie at the par-4 15th as Team Australia was making bogey on the hole, and the lead belonged to the South Africans at 21 under.

Leishman then responded in a big way at the short 16th with the shot of the tournament. Smith’s 3-wood off the tee at the 302-yard hole got an unlucky break, bounding hard left into water that guards the green. The hole was cut front left. Standing awkwardly on a hill just above the red line signifying the penalty area, Leishman gingerly placed his ball after two failed drops, took measure of what he needed to do from 24 feet, crisply bumped a chip to allow for run out on the slick green, and watched his ball sneak into the hole and drop for 3. Birdie. Better yet, he had channeled his inner Tom Watson, and called his shot.

“Yeah, I said to the boys, ‘Why don’t we just chip this in?’” said Leishman, who collected his sixth PGA TOUR victory. (The win was Smith’s third.) “It wasn’t the hardest chip in the world, but under the conditions – well, I won’t say it was a must make, but it was certainly very helpful that it went in. I actually forgot to get my ball out of the hole I was so excited. I went over and was high-fiving Cam, and Louis had to throw the ball to me. So yeah, it’s just nice to be able to celebrate with friends. … The atmosphere was great.”

When the South African duo failed to get up and down from beyond the green – Oosthuizen’s solid drive pitched onto the firm putting surface and finished almost 40 yards beyond it, almost in the water – the teams were tied again. Both teams bogeyed the difficult par-3 17th hole and had their chances for birdie on 18 in regulation – Schwartzel from up the hill 20 feet away, and Leishman on a tricky line from 16 feet. They advanced to extra holes, and Oosthuizen, a world-class ballstriker seeking his first PGA TOUR victory in 11 years, then made the rare and unfortunate unforced error that would cost him and Schwartzel.

“Disappointed,” Oosthuizen said afterward, “but I felt we played well, gave ourselves loads of opportunities. Alternate-shot is always a tough format. But we have a third here (in 2018). We have a second. I feel next time we’ll come back and get the first.”

Richy Werenski and Peter Uihlein tied the day’s low score, a 5-under 67, to climb 15 spots into solo third place at 19 under. Three teams tied for fourth, two shots from the playoff: Billy Horschel-Sam Burns (69); Keith Mitchell-Brandt Snedeker (69); and Keegan Bradley-Brendan Steele (70).

As significant as Leishman’s chip was at 16, the pair pointed to a couple of other key moments in the round that kept them going in the right direction. Leishman hit a brilliant shot into the par-3 ninth, leaving Smith only 7 feet for birdie. Prior to Leishman’s shot, no player had been able to get a shot to stop closer than 30 feet from that flagstick, and only one team had birdied there. Leishman pointed to a key 8-footer that Smith ran in for bogey at the 13th, after their team had taken an unplayable with Leishman’s drive snuggling behind a cypress tree, and he applauded Smith for not going too far left with his tee shot on 18 in the playoff after Oosthuizen had driven his ball right.

“I mean, it’s hard to hit that tee shot,” Leishman said.

Leishman and Smith did not pair together at the last Presidents Cup, but their impressive performance at Zurich should give International captain Trevor Immelman “something to consider’ as he looks to 2022 at Quail Hollow. The two know each other’s games quite well from playing so many practice rounds together, and despite a 10-year difference in age – Leishman is 37, Smith 27 – they get on quite well. The players and their caddies shared a house in New Orleans all week. 

Sunday’s victory at Zurich held extra meaning for the Aussies in that it arrived on Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day back home, a day of pause and remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars, and conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.

“I know my family went out to a dawn service yesterday morning and paid their respects, so maybe we have got a bit of good karma out there today because of that,” Smith said. “Really cool … the Anzac spirit definitely held up today.”

With the trophy sitting between them and each in possession of a championship belt – Leishman actually was already wearing his – and with both stating they are committed to representing Australia in the Summer Olympics, there was but one last hard-pressing matter for them to address. Smith had told his girlfriend that if he won this week, he would shave his mullet. (Leishman said the mullet has a cult following all its own.) Sorry, Smith said, but trimming his long mane isn’t in his plans.

“I feel it’s a part of me now,” Smith said. As is a second Zurich title, with a buddy he relished sharing it with. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.


AVONDALE, La. — As PGA TOUR members, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have maintained bases in the United States for years now, residing and playing golf in Palm Beach, Florida, but they haven’t surrendered everything from their South African roots.

In quality team golf, when a team mixes and matches effectively to keep momentum churning at opportune times, Americans might claim to have “ham ‘n egged it” very effectively. Oosthuizen and Schwartzel use a different term, gleaned from their early days across the globe: To mix well as a team is to dovetail.

The two were asked if they had “dovetailed” to their satisfaction after their Saturday 9-under 63 at TPC Louisiana not only tied the day’s low four-ball score at the Zurich Classic, but propelled them atop the leaderboard at 19-under 197.

“We dovetailed well, yeah,” Schwartzel said. To which Oosthuizen, with a smile, immediately retorted to the reporter who’d asked, “It sounds weird when you say it.”

The pair’s comfort level is obvious, as they go back to playing golf with and against one another as pre-teens. That could prove to be a significant key as Oosthuizen and Schwartzel head into the tougher foursomes format on Sunday, trying to land victory in the PGA TOUR’s lone official two-man team event.

Believe it or not, Oosthuizen, 38, owns 13 victories around the world (including the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews), but never has won a tournament on U.S. soil. How cool would it be if were able to do it with his good pal Charl, 36, the 2011 Masters champion, there by his side?

“I think Louis obviously played really well in a lot of majors, and we’ve both won a lot of tournaments, and I feel like the more difficult it is, the better we both play,” Schwartzel said. “So the format for tomorrow in a way suits us, and if we execute the shots the way we see it, we’ll have a good chance.”

The South African pair finished third in this event in 2018. They’ll face a tough combination on Sunday: A difficult format, a toughening golf course that is growing firmer each day and some talented tandems close behind that are very capable of catching them if they play well. Australians Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith – the latter won this event with Jonas Blixt in 2017 to earn his PGA TOUR card – will join Oosthuizen-Schwartzel in the final pairing, just one shot back at 18 under after their own 63. (It was a popular number; six teams shot 63 Saturday.)

Also one shot back will be Tony Finau and Cameron Champ, the long bombers who had played great for two-and-a-half days but hit a wall and stopped making birdies on the back nine Saturday. They shot 67 in best-ball one day after shooting 68 in alternate-shot, and look forward to getting back on track on Sunday.

“Neither one of us had our best stuff,” said Finau, who made a good run at eagle on the par-5 18th to try to get into Sunday’s final group. He settled for birdie. “I made some birdies but made some bogeys. He (Champ) picked me up when I needed him to. We just kind of hung on today. I think it definitely gives us some confidence and some momentum going into tomorrow.”

Bubba Watson-Scottie Scheffler (66) and the all-Norway team of Kris Ventura-Viktor Hovland (68) will start Sunday just two shots off the pace. Three teams are three back at 16 under: Thomas Pieters-Tom Lewis (63), Tyler Duncan-Adam Schenk (63) and Keegan Bradley-Brendan Steele (64).

Schwartzel did most of the heavy lifting for the leaders through 10 holes, and then Oosthuizen, known for having one of the sweetest swings in golf, started to heat up, which finally would allow the team to take flight. Oosthuizen made birdie from 19 feet at the par-5 11th, Schwartzel birdied the next two holes, and Oosthuizen would add birdies at the last three, the highlight being a 34-footer he rolled in for an unexpected 2 at the difficult par-3 17th.

“Now and then you get a putt like that where you feel like you’re actually going to make it,” Oosthuizen said, “you stand over it and just need to hit a good stroke. It was one of those.”

After Schwartzel rinsed his approach at the par-5 18th, Oosthuizen would step up big again, reaching the green from 226 yards and two-putting for the team’s ninth birdie of the round. They fired 6-under 30 on the back nine.

Leishman and Smith seemed to have a pretty stress-free day themselves. Leishman had some fun at the first tee when he emerged with a long, black mullet wig in a salute to his mullet-wearing partner, Smith. (“I committed to it, and it went all right,” Leishman said after the round.) Smith has told his wife that if he and Leishman, former World Cup partners, were to win on Sunday, the mullet would go, so there’s a lot more at stake on Sunday than two guys chasing silver championship belts and walking off with more than $1 million apiece. What will it take for the Aussies to prevail?

“More of the same stuff,” Smith said after both players’ games had appeared very sharp on Saturday, Leishman bouncing back from a below-average performance on Friday. “More of the solid ballstriking we had today, and not a lot of stress.”

Ah, but the stress is an inherent piece in foursomes, a seldomly played format that simply takes players out of their normal comfort zones. Two players, one golf ball to share, and so much can happen. The leaderboard is stacked tight, and it portends to be a thrilling Sunday finish on deck at TPC Louisiana. And that sits just fine with the low-key Oosthuizen.

“I think anyone within four shots of the lead has got a chance with the format that it is tomorrow,” Oosthuizen said. “It’s going to be tough.”

Which would make a first victory on U.S. soil taste that much sweeter.


AVONDALE, La. — Tony Finau and Cameron Champ shot a 4-under 68 in alternate-shot play Friday for a share of the Zurich Classic lead with the Norwegian duo of Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura.

“I know we’re having a good time with this format up to this point,” Finau said about the lone team event on the PGA Tour. “We’ve both played some really solid golf, and we find ourselves at the top of the leaderboard.

“We’ll do what we’ve been doing the last couple days, which is enjoy each other’s company and not add any bonus pressure when it comes to teammate golf.”

Hovland and Ventura had a 69 to match Finau and Champ at 13-under 131. The teams will play best ball Saturday, and close with an alternate-shot round Sunday.

“Just having fun, and obviously we don’t get to do this very often,” Ventura said. “We’re playing some good golf, and the course we both like, so it’s just one of those things where we’re comfortable playing out here.”

It was an eventful day in windy conditions at the TPC Louisiana, highlighted by two aces.

Nick Watney, the Zurich winner in 2007 when it was a traditional individual event, made a hole-in-one on the 14th hole from 224 yards.

Later, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell aced the 217-yard 17th, eliciting a roar from what is normally one of the rowdiest spectator areas on the course. McDowell then sent a cooler loaded with cans of beer and wine to the media center.

McDowell and Matt Wallace bogeyed four holes and shot 70, good enough to make the cut at 8 under.

Watney and Charley Hoffman shot 74 to make the cut at 6 under.

Hovland and Ventura, also tied for the lead after the first round, birdied five holes. But they were left to rue a double bogey on 16, when Hovland hit their approach shot from a fairway bunker into the water short and left of the green.

“It was my fault,” Ventura said with a laugh. “We tried to hit the fairway with an iron (off of the tee) and I hit it in that bunker. I wasn’t the best teammate.”

Finau and Champ briefly surged to a two-shot lead after birdies on the par-4 10th and the par-5 11th. But they bogeyed the par-4 12th when Finau’s approach fell short of the right side of the green.

But Finau made up for it with a birdie putt of nearly 6 feet on 18.

“We knew today with the wind and just the format in general it was going to be a grind, and that’s what we did, especially coming down the last nine holes,” Finau said. “We just kind of grinded it out.”

While attendance was not immediately released, galleries following the leaders looked considerable. Festive fans seemed delighted to be back at an event canceled last year by the coronavirus pandemic. Many did not wear masks, despite signs around the course asking them to do so.

Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose birdied seven holes, including the par-3 17th with a 12-foot putt by Rose. But they also bogeyed three holes to shoot a four-under 68 that put them at 11 under and tied for third with Bubba Watson and Scottie Scheffler.

None of Rose’s and Stenson’s bogeys derailed them. They responded twice with birdies on the next hole.

“A problem shared is a problem halved in this format for sure,” Rose said. “But Henrik was a rock today. I was kind of looking at it in terms of I don’t think he made one mistake that led to us dropping a shot really. It was pretty fun just to have someone that was so solid today. He pulled his weight.”

Watson and Scheffler were at 12 under after three straight birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 12, but dropped strokes with bogeys on 15 and 17 before finishing with a birdie on Scheffler’s 8 1/2-foot putt.

Billy Horschel and Sam Burns were a shot off the lead through 14 holes, but bogeyed 15 and then double-bogeyed the par-5 18th after Burns’ tee shot went in the water right of the fairway and Horschel’s next shot landed in a fairway bunker. They head to the third round tied for ninth at 8 under.

Australians Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith shot a 72 to remain at 9 under. Their first bogey came after Leishman hit his drive on 13 into one of the most photogenic trees on the course, a massive, towering cypress with roots as high as 4 feet protruding from the grass around it.

Smith couldn’t get a swing on the ball in there and had to take a drop. They also double-bogeyed the 17th after Leishman’s tee shot landed in the water left of the green.


AVONDALE, La. — Brice Garnett and Scott Stallings birdied eight of their last 11 holes, Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura birdied nine of their final 12, and both teams shot 10-under 62 in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans to share the first-round lead Thursday.

“Kris decided to heat up his putter. That really helped,” Hovland said. “But I felt like we really played solid golf all 18 holes.”

Ventura made a 36-foot birdie putt from the fringe on 15 and a 19-footer on 16 for his seventh and final birdie of the day in the best-ball format played on the first and third rounds. Players will alternate shots in the second and final rounds.

Garnett hit approach shots within 7 feet on the first, second, fourth and fifth holes and made all four birdie putts after his team made the turn following a back-nine start. Stallings’ birdie putt from nearly 18 feet on the eighth hole pulled his team into a tie atop the leaderboard.

“We had a tale of two nines,” said Stallings, who made half of his team’s 10 birdies. “It was nice we didn’t birdie the same hole ever, and that’s what you have to do. We did a great job of that today.”

Hovland started the Norwegian tandem’s run up the leaderboard by landing a shot from the bunker left of the green within 4 feet to birdie the par-5 seventh.

Ventura birdied Nos. 8, 9 and 11 — highlighted by his 9-foot putt on the par-3 ninth – before Hovland put a 194-yard approach on 12 within 2 feet to set up another birdie. Hovland also birdied the par-5 18th.

Seven teams shot 63, including two-time Zurich champion Billy Horschel and his teammate, Louisiana native and former LSU player Sam Burns.

Tony Finau and Cameron Champ, who had a back-nine start in the same group as Horschel and Burns, birdied the seventh and eighth holes to join the third-place teams.

Cameron Smith, who won the Zurich during its first year as a team event in 2017, made a 38-foot eagle putt on the par-5 second hole to help him and fellow Australian Marc Leishman post a 63. Smith also had six of his team’s seven birdies.

“I’ll probably buy dinner tonight after that exhibition he put on,” Leishman said. “He’s definitely owed that.”

Louis Oosthuizen nearly put his approach shot in the water on 18, but then chipped in from a steep embankment for birdie to pull himself and his teammate, fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, into a tie for third.

Also at 63 were the teams of Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley; Sebastian Cappelen and Mark Hubbard; and Kyle Stanley and Kyoung-Hoon Lee.

Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay finished among a handful of teams at 64, including the tandem of Bubba Watson and Scottie Scheffler.

A cool breeze from the north that had numerous players wearing long sleeves — uncommon in late April in south Louisiana — also had a chilling effect on the anticipated risk-taking that can occur in the best-ball format. That was particularly the case on the 403-yard 13th hole, where players elected to aim for the fairway to the right of a massive cypress tree rather go straight at the green over a waste bunker to the left of the tree.

“This course isn’t really designed to play in this wind,” Horschel said, also noting he did appreciate temperatures in the 60s for much of the round. “It was nice to see Sam have a really good round because he’s been playing well … and I just made sure I didn’t do anything stupid.”

Defending champions Ryan Palmer and Jon Rahm shot 65.

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