Aussies Leishman and Smith win Zurich Classic in a playoff
AVONDALE, La. (AP) — Cameron Smith’s aggressiveness on the TPC Louisiana’s water-lined 16th hole appeared to doom his team’s chances of winning the Zurich Classic when his 294-yard drive bounced off an embankment near the green and into the water.
Smith’s teammate, fellow Australian Marc Leishman, then flipped the script with a deft chip.
Leishman made birdie after a penalty drop in the rough, about 23 feet from the pin, pulling him and Smith into a tie with the South African duo of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel that wasn’t broken until the Aussies won the first playoff hole Sunday.
″(Smith) hit a really good shot. It was the right club and the right shot, just drifted a little in the wind,” Leishman said. “I was just concentrating on my game and I was lucky enough to be on the up slope.
“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.”
Smith and Leishman ended it with a par on their second trip up the par-5 18th after Oosthuizen pushed his tee shot into the water and narrowly missed an 11-foot putt for par.
“Disappointed, but I felt we played well, gave ourselves loads of opportunities,” said Oosthuizen, who was seeking his first win since the 2010 British Open. “We have a second. I feel next time we’ll come back and get the first. But so a disappointing way to finish like that. ... It could have gone any way, the way we played in regulation.”
The Australians forced the playoff by shooting a 2-under 70 in alternate-shot play at the PGA Tour’s lone regular-season team event for a four-round 268. Oosthuizen and Schwartzel began the round with a one-stroke lead, but shot a 71 with three pars and two bogeys.
“It was really tough,” said Smith, whose previous victory came at the Sony Open in Hawaii in 2020. “That back nine was brutal, but we hung in there.”
It’s Smith’s third career victory and second at the Zurich, which he won with Jonas Blixt in 2017, the first year New Orleans’ PGA Tour stop switched from a traditional individual format to an event featuring 80 two-man teams. That first victory also came in a playoff.
“I guess I’m good at picking good partners,” Smith said. “We had such a good week on and off the golf course.”
It was Smith’s best result since tying for second at the pandemic-delayed 2020 Masters last November. It’s also was his sixth top 10 since the current tour season started.
It was Leishman’s sixth career victory, his best result since tying for fifth at the Masters this month and his first win since the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open.
The climactic finish capped off a compelling duel between two teams that teed off together in the final grouping and took turns holding leads that never grew to more than two strokes.
Smith made birdie putts of 9 feet on the par-5 seventh and 7 feet on the par-3 ninth to pull his team even atop the leaderboard. The Aussies went in front on 10, when Schwartzel’s approach landed in the bunker and his team two-putted for bogey.
Smith and Leishman took a two-shot lead on the par-5 11th, where Leishman drove 307 yards into the fairway and Smith sent the team’s second shot 265 yards to the green, setting up a birdie.
But they gave a stroke back on 13 when Leishman’s drive went into the TPC Louisiana’s trademark, towering old-growth cypress three that stands alone like a monolith in the fairway. That forced the team to take a drop that led to a bogey.
The South Africans moved back into the lead on 15, where Schwartzel followed up Oosthuizen’s 205-yard approach shot with a nearly 15-foot putt for birdie, while Smith, whose approach had fallen short of the green, narrowly missed a 13-foot putt for par.
“But in this game, we have been around long enough to know it’s not over until it’s over at the end,” Schwartzel said. “It was a roller coaster of emotions, though.”
After the eventful 16th left both teams at 21 under, they each bogeyed the par-3 17th and parred the par-5 18th to finish regulation at 20 under.
Peter Uihlein and Richy Werenski shot a 67, with six birdies and one bogey, to shoot up the leaderboard from 18th to third.
Billy Horschel and former LSU player Sam Burns shot a 69 to tie for fourth with Brandt Snedeker-Keith Mitchell and Brendan Steele-Kegan Bradley.
Ryan Palmer and Jon Rahm, the defending champions from 2019, closed with a 70 to finish seventh at 17 under.
Smith and Leishman each earned $1.07 million for the victory — a result that also forced Smith to address a promise he’d made to cut his mullet hair style when he won a tournament.
“I would have to apologize to my girlfriend; it’s not going away,” Smith said. “I feel like it’s part of me now.”
Leishman affirmed Smith’s decision, noting that Smith “has got a cult following now” because of his hair.
“You should hear the fans out there,” Leishman said. “They’re all over it. It’s awesome.”
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