In the only team event on the PGA Tour, Sunday’s final round became a battle between Australia and South Africa and required more than 72 holes to decide a winner.
Cameron Smith sank a par putt on the first playoff hole and he and teammate Marc Leishman clinched victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, besting 54-hole leaders Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Both teams finished the final round at 20 under, with each side missing a birdie putt on the 18th green. They headed back up to the 18th tee to begin the playoff, where Oosthuizen, playing first, watched his tee shot take a right turn into the water.
The Oosthuizen-Schwartzel team took a penalty stroke and left the door wide open for Leishman and Smith, who went on to win with a two-putt par.
It was Smith’s second win at the Zurich Classic; in 2017, he and Jonas Blixt won the first edition of the tournament in the team format. All three of Smith’s career wins on the PGA Tour have come in playoffs.
“Cam played unbelievably well,” Leishman said. “I was saying to him when we finished if that had been an individual tournament, I think he would have won by a fair few shots. But I managed to not hold him back too much. But, no, it was a fun week.”
The Australians entered Sunday one stroke behind Oosthuizen and Schwartzel and played alongside them in the final group of the day. Leishman-Smith jumped out to a two-stroke lead on the back nine on their way to carding a 2-under 70. Oosthuizen-Schwartzel posted a 71.
A bogey on No. 10 for the South Africans and a birdie by the Australians the following hole shook up the leaderboard, with Leishman-Smith moving to 22 under and a two-shot advantage.
Leishman’s tee shot on No. 13 nestled under the famous cypress in the middle of the fairway. Smith took a drop and later sank a 7-foot, 9-inch bogey putt to limit the damage. At the same time, Schwartzel missed a makeable birdie opportunity that would have drawn the teams even.
But a two-stroke swing eventually occurred on No. 15. Schwartzel redeemed himself by making a birdie of nearly 15 feet while Smith missed a par, and the teams switched places on the leaderboard, with the South Africans returning to 21 under.
“We played well. When they had the unplayable and I had the birdie putt and then it switches from two behind to one ahead, which was difficult,” Schwartzel said. “But in this game, we have been around long enough to know it’s not over until it’s over at the end. It was a roller coaster of emotions, though.”
Leishman and Smith birdied No. 16 to tie the lead again and both teams made bogey on the tough par-3 17th, eventually leading to the playoff.
Richy Werenski and Peter Uihlein of the U.S., the only team to score in the 60s all four rounds, finished 19 under for third place. Three more teams of Americans tied for fourth at 18 under: Billy Horschel-Sam Burns, Keith Mitchell-Brandt Snedeker and Keegan Bradley-Brendan Steele.
The teams played best ball in the first and third rounds and alternate-shot foursomes in the second and fourth rounds.
“I think that’s great thing about the format, having alternate shot on Sunday,” Leishman said. “There’s so much volatility. No lead is really safe, as we showed. I think we only got to 2-up, but it can turn really quickly and especially when the course is firm like it was. You don’t even have to hit a bad shot to get put into a bad position. I think that was awesome. You had to really think your way around the golf course.”
Leishman and Smith had some fun on the first tee Saturday, when Leishman donned a mullet wig for his player introduction to match Smith’s blonde mullet. Smith said at the start of the week that he promised his girlfriend he’d cut his hair once he won a tournament again.
But the way he’s been playing and finishing tournaments — including back-to-back top 10s at the Masters and the RBC Heritage before this week — it’s understandable that he wants to renege on his promise.
“I would have to apologize to my girlfriend. It’s not going away,” Smith said. “I mean, it’s — I feel like it’s part of me now.”
–Field Level Media