Zurich Classic of New Orleans:
With a birdie on the second hole of sudden death, Brian Stuard emerged the victor at the weather-shortened, 54-hole Zurich Classic of New Orleans for his first PGA TOUR title in his 120th career start, outlasting Jamie Lovemark and Byeong-Hun An in a three-man playoff.
This was Stuard’s day and it was a long time coming... in more ways than one. He joined the TOUR in 2010 and has been runner-up two times, both at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, in 2010 (T2) and 2013-14 (solo second).
Playing this season on conditional status, the 33-year-old won in his fourth appearance at TPC Louisiana with a previous best of T65 last year. He missed the cut in 2010 and 2013.
With this win, Stuard catapults 370 places in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) to No. 143 and is exempt on TOUR thru the 2017-18 season. He also vaults from 184th in the FedExCup (FEC) standings to No. 38.
The OWGR points (minus 25 percent) and full FEC boost would’ve happened if only 36 holes were completed but the results would have been “unofficial” by TOUR standards, so, while it took FIVE days to get the 54 holes completed and a Monday finish, the results become official.
Stuard’s title also earns exemptions into this year’s PGA Championship (MC/2014) and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he’ll make his first appearance in a World Golf Championships event. More importantly, it also comes with an invitation to his first Masters in 2017.
The Winner’s KEY Stats (rank):
Putting from inside of 10 feet: Including the playoff, Stuard was a perfect 46-for-46.
Strokes gained: putting (SGP): 8.547 (1st)
Putts per GIR: 1.588 (1st)
Putts per Round: 24.33 (1st)
Scrambling: 20/20 (1st)
Note: Stuard becomes just the fourth TOUR winner since 1992 with a perfect scrambling record.
Other Stats (54 holes):
Driving Distance: 265.1 yards (79th of 82)
Driving Accuracy: 32/42 (T17) at 76.19 percent
Greens in Regulation (GIR): 34/54 (T73) at 62.96 percent
Strokes gained: tee-to-green (SGTTG): 3.454 (31st)
Birdies: 15 (T8)
Bogeys: 0 (1st)
Golf Channel Perfect Picks ($2,334,500):
Group 1: Jason Day (T5): $255,500
Group 4: Brian Stuard (P1): $1,260,000
Note: Stuard is only the second winner out of Group 4 this season in 16 Golf Channel events (Vaughn Taylor, AT&T Pebble Beach).
Early/late was the better part of the draw with four of the six top finishers in Golf Channel emerging from the AM/PM ranks, highlighted by the champion and An.
Lovemark, third threesome off No. 10 tee (12:20 p.m. CT) on Thursday, and Varner III, first threesome off No. 10 (12:00 p.m.), bucked the trend.
Neither of the duo started on time Thursday however, with the first weather suspension coming at 11:59 a.m. They finally got underway at 4:52 p.m. with Lovemark getting nine holes in (3-under) and Varner III at 2-under thru 10 holes when play was ditched at 7:32 p.m. (darkness), stranding the entire late/early wave.
Stuard (64), An (68), Day (69) and Molder (71) completed all 18 holes of the first round on Day 1.
In total, 46 (of 76) early/late made the 36-hole cut (two WDs), while 36 (of 76) late/early made the cut (two WDs).
Brian Stuard (Won): Early/late
Jamie Lovemark (P2): Late/early
Byeong-Hun An (P2): Early/late
Jason Day (T5): Early/late
Bryce Molder (T8): Early/late
Harold Varner III (T8): Late/early
Yahoo! Low Rounds:
R2: Chad Collins (64)
R3: Bobby Wyatt (64)
The Champion’s Recap:
15-under 201 (64-68-69)
Brian Stuard: Playing out of the final threesome, the Jackson, Michigan, native began the three-day finale on 12-under, one better than playing competitors Lovemark and Vegas.
This was his second 36-hole lead/co-lead on TOUR with the first coming in 2014 at the Sony Open where he eventually finished sixth.
Stuard mustered nine (of 14) fairways and 11 GIR and his only par breakers were three ‘4s’ on the par-5 second, 11th, and most importantly, the 18th to match An and Lovemark with 54-hole aggregates of 15-under 201.
In the playoff, Stuard and Lovemark matched par on the first playing of the par-5 18th, while An was eliminated with a sloppy bogey-6. He won with a short-range birdie on the second playing of the 18th after stiffing his approach to just outside tap-in range.
Stuard is using his top-10 exemption to play this week’s Wells Fargo Championship.
Jamie Lovemark: The Californian began the third (and final) round on 11-under (67-66), one shy of Stuard. Playing out of the final threesome with the would-be-champ and 18-hole co-leader Vegas, he crafted a bogey-free 4-under 35-33=68 to catch Stuard and An, who was first to post out of the penultimate threesome.
This was Lovemark's third Zurich with missed cuts in 2012 and 2014, and entered the week off a MC in his last go at the Heritage. Looking for his first TOUR title in his 80th career start (72nd as a pro), the 28-year-old hit 13 GIR, circling birdies on Nos. 7, 10, 11 and 13, but the one missed chance he'll loath came on the 72nd hole, 3-putting the par-5 last (from distance) for par.
On the first playing of the 18th in sudden death, he and Stuard advanced with pars as mentioned while An exited with bogey-6. On the second playing, Lovemark airmailed the green with his second from the fairway and took two pitches to get on, one-putting for par while Stuard won with birdie-4 from short range.
It's his second career runner-up (2009 Frys.com) – where he also lost in a playoff – and settles for a season best and fifth top 10 in 2015-16 on 16 starts. Lovemark leaps 33 spots in OWGR to a career-best 77th.
Byeong-Hun An: In the field on a foreign exemption, An was making his sixth start of the season, with a previous-best T9 at the WGC-Dell Match Play. He began the third (and final) round on 8-under (T4), four back of Stuard after opening his Zurich debut in twin 68s.
The 24-year-old twirled a bogey-free 7-under 34-31=65 to post 15-under, circling seven on 15 GIR, including three straight on Nos. 13-15. He was a perfect 14-for-14 in fairways and led in SGTTG with a cumulative 8.750, highlighted by 3.676 in the finale.
The South Korean, whose club affiliation is listed as Lake Nona G&CC in Orlando, made a mess of the par-5 18th on the first go-around in sudden death, exiting with a one-putt bogey-6.
His closing 65 however, was a personal best in 53 career TOUR rounds and his P2 a career mark in 20 total TOUR events, 12 as a pro. The former U.S. Amateur champion bumps seven places to No. 24 in OWGR and garners 413.250 non-member FEC points – enough for Special Temporary Membership (STM) and becomes rookie eligible on his 10th start.
Surprise of the Week:
Bobby Wyatt: Besides Stuard, who was a pre-tourney 250/1 outright, the sponsor invite is easily the next in line at a pre-tourney 300/1. While the 1198th-ranked player in the world rankings didn’t win, he finished in solo fourth on 14-under 202 (67-71-64) in his Zurich debut.
That’s a career best in just his eighth TOUR start for the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada player, supplanting T63 at the 2014 John Deere Classic. He catapults 767 places to No. 431 in OWGR and pockets $336,000 in non-member earnings.
The Alabama native and resident’s 64 was the low lap over the three-day third round and matched the week low posted by Stuard and Vegas in round one, and Chad Collins in round two.
He carded 8 birdies and an eagle-3 on 16 GIR to camouflage back-to-back 3-putt bogeys on holes 13 and 14 from the 40-foot range. Wyatt led in total birdies with 19.
Jhonattan Vegas: Playing this season on Past Champion status, the 31-year-old posted a three-way T5 on 13-under 203 (64-69-70) in his second Zurich (T36/2015).
He co-led with Stuard after 18 holes and was T2 thru 36. The Houston resident carved out a bogey-free 2-under-par 34-36=70 playing out of the final threesome on Monday and while finishing with a disappointing 16 straight pars, collected a valuable 100 FEC points to move to 68th in the FEC standings.
It was Vegas’ sixth top 25 of the season in 13 starts, third top 10, and gets him into this week’s Wells Fargo.
Mother Nature: Six of the last eight rounds at TPC Louisiana have either been delayed or suspended. Last year they were fortunate to get the remainder of the third round and the final round in on Sunday after experiencing weather delays on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
This week, they had to go FIVE days just to get 54 holes completed. In total, there were seven suspensions in play, three for inclement weather and four for darkness. That said, the last 54-hole winner of the Zurich Classic was Seve Ballesteros in 1985, and the last time it spilled over into Monday was 2004, so it’s been awhile, but still.
What We Learned:
Stuard’s win puts five of the last six on TOUR in the first-timer column with Charley Hoffman interrupting at the Valero. The other four: Branden Grace (Heritage), Danny Willett (Masters), Jim Herman (SHO) and Tony Finau (PRO).
Overall, there have been 11 first-time winners this season thru 25 events. One note on Grace above, he removed himself from the published field at this week’s Wells Fargo, replaced by alternate and Web.com Tour grad Henrik Norlander who finished T31 this week on 7-under 209.
The pre-tourney odds-favorites have won just ONCE this season thru 25 events (Spieth- Hyundai TOC). As mentioned, Stuard was a 250/1 outright.
World No. 1 and Zurich Ambassador Jason Day was the book-maker favorite (5/1) and finished T5 on 13-under 203 (69-68-66), two shots shy of the playoff.
Defending champ and Zurich Ambassador Justin Rose was second on the odds-maker’s food chain (15/2) and missed the 36-hole cut by two shots at even-par 72-72=144.
Ten (10) of the Top 50 OWGR were in the field:
Two (2) missed the 36-hole cut: Rose and LSU alum Smylie Kaufman. Speaking of the rookie Kaufman, dating back to R3 of the Masters, his last four laps show 69-81-68-81.
Two (2) finished in the Top 10: Day (T5) and then-World No. 31 An (P2).
There were 28 first-timers in the max field of 156, including 15 (of 17) rookies.
Harold Varner III: The 25-year-old took top honors among both contingents with T9 last week at Valero. This week, he shared rookie honors on 11-under 205 (69-67-69) with Patton Kizzire. The East Carolina University alum nets his third top 10 of the season on 17 starts.
This week’s shout out goes to newly minted 18-year-old (April 29th) Ryan Ruffels who finished a career-best T20 on 8-under 208 (70-68-70). That betters a T43 in his pro debut at the Farmers and he deposits 46.00 non-member FEC points. The Aussie has one sponsor invite remaining and needs 288.80 points to qualify for STM.
The TOUR heads to Charlotte, North Carolina, for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club. Rory McIlroy is the defending champion after romping to a seven-stroke victory over runners-up Webb Simpson and Patrick Rodgers.
Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 26th tournament of the season.