The Zurich Classic made a bold decision to switching to a team-play format starting in 2017. The committee was further validated for a second consecutive year with a thrilling finish at TPC Louisiana.
This time, a brilliant, bogey-free final-round 5-under 67 for the team of Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy was enough to propel the two Tour vets to victory in New Orleans.
Reaching 22-under for the four days, Horschel and Piercy completed an impressive week that included a Saturday 61, to hold off a compelling leaderboard and winning by one stroke over the team of Jason Dufner and Pat Perez.
Neither Horschel nor Piercy had been playing their best golf over the past year, but they are feeling much, much better now after conquering the Zurich, with the victory marking the fifth career win for Horschel, and the fourth for Piercy.
FINAL TOP 10
1. Billy Horschel/Scott Piercy -22
2. Jason Dufner/Pat Perez -21
3. Charl Schwartzel/Louis Oosthuizen -20
4. Chris Paisley/Tommy Fleetwood -19
4. Brice Garnett/Chesson Hadley -19
6. Tony Finau/Daniel Summerhays -18
7. Tyler Duncan/Adam Schenk -17
7. Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay -17
7. Russell Knox/Martin Laird -17
10. Seamus Power/David Hearn -16
10. Greg Chalmers/Cameron Percy -16
10. Brendan Steele/Jamie Lovemark -16
10. J.J. Henry/Tom Hoge -16
10. Troy Merritt/Brendon de Jonge -16
15 Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown -15
15 Zach Johnson/Jonathan Byrd -15
19 Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson -14
22 Graeme McDowell/Ian Poulter -13
25 Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair -12
28 Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar -11
34 Jason Day/Ryan Ruffels -9
1. HOW BILLY HORSCHEL and SCOTT PIERCY WON THE ZURICH CLASSIC
On Friday, the first day of alternate-shot, Horschel and Piercy birdied their first two holes, but back-to-back double-bogeys on Nos. 3 and 4 took the wind of their round, finishing with a 1-over 73.
Fortunately, by going 65-61 on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, they found themselves just three strokes off the lead heading into Sunday’s finale. As they’d done on day two, the duo started Sunday off birdie-birdie, but kept the momentum going from there, adding more gains on Nos. 7, 10, and 11 to vault into the lead.
They played defense from there, finishing with seven-straight pars for a low-round 5-under 67.
Dufner and Perez had a chance to force a playoff on the final hole, but a 14-foot birdie try from Dufner fell just short.
Both players on the winning team largely credited the victory to Horschel’s improved putting performance, which was spectacular this week. Horschel said after the round that his putting had been inconsistent, but cutting his PXG putter down to 33.5 inches has been the catalyst for a dramatic improvement.
2. WHAT IT MEANS FOR HORSCHEL and PIERCY
Neither Horschel nor Piercy were strangers to the winner’s circle, but both had to work through some considerable recent struggles to find themselves atop another final leaderboard.
The 31-year-old Horschel has never quite been able to recreate the magic from his epic 2014 FedExCup Playoff run when he took the crown despite being in the 82nd spot after one event.
However, despite not consistently contending over the past three seasons, he’s found ways to stay relevant, most notably with his surprise playoff win over Jason Day at last year’s AT&T Byron Nelson.
The current season was not shaping up to be one of Horschel’s best either. In his first 11 starts, his only top-40 was in a 34-man tournament, and he had a nightmare Masters leaving on Friday after reaching 11-over. He was able to regroup after Augusta, though, posting a T5 the following week at the RBC Heritage, and then chasing that with a T11 at last week’s Valero Texas Open.
Piercy got the most national attention of his career in 2016, when he finished runner-up in consecutive tournaments: the U.S. Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He started off his 2017 season well during the Fall Series, but then completely collapsed during the calendar year, with just one top-10 among a collection of poor finishes and missed cuts.
The 2018 season had treated him better, though, with seven top-25s among 13 starts, largely helped by an iron game that had him ranked No. 1 on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green coming into the week.
His fourth win comes nearly three years after his third, which occurred at the 2015 Barbasol Championship.
The victory does not guarantee a spot at next year’s Masters for either, but they were still rewarded with copious exemptions, and 400 FedExCup points apiece.
3. SUNDAY’S STARS
Perez and Dufner were not quite able to force a playoff, but their bogey-free 4-under 68 tied for the second best round of the day. They formed one of the more familiar teams, having played together many times over the last 20 years, per Dufner.
The runner-up marks Perez’s fourth top-5 finish of the season, although just the first since January. It was also a clean final-round scorecard for Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, who carded their four birdies on consecutive holes: 10, 11, 12, and 13 to also shoot a 4-under 68, finishing in solo-third place.
Schwartzel was a late addition, subbing in for fellow South African Branden Grace, whose wife delivered the couple’s first child just this week. The All-England team of Chris Paisley and Tommy Fleetwood were phenomenal in the best-ball format carding a 62 on Thursday and a 63 on Saturday. Unfortunately, their Friday alternate-shot 75 left them four strokes out of the lead heading into Sunday. However, they were much more in sync in round four, as a hole-out pitch from Paisley on 18 put the cap on a 3-under 69, leading to a T4 finish.
4. STUMBLING HOME
They were the only team in the field with both members ranked in the World’s top 15; a former Ryder Cup superteam who boasts an Olympic Gold and Olympic Silver in their collection, but for the second consecutive year, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson failed to make much noise in New Orleans.
They did considerably better than last year, when they missed the cut entirely, but the international pair could not find much cohesion on Sunday, shooting a surprisingly poor 1-over 73, leading to an underwhelming T19 finish.
They got off to a tremendous start in round four, reaching 3-under through seven holes, but gave those strokes away quicker than they gained them, with bogeys on 8, 10, 11, and 12 to leave them well out of the mix.
Given the recent form of Bubba Watson (two wins and four top-10s in his last five starts) and the always-steady play of Matt Kuchar, it was shocking that pair could only muster two birdies on Sunday, resulting in a 2-over 74. Seven strokes worse than their second-round alternate-shot 67, Watson and Kuchar dropped into a tie for 28th.
The most significant drop of the final day came from the team that was in contention again, one year after reaching a four-hole playoff. Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown held the 54-hole lead, but were completely befuddled down the stretch, with three bogeys and a double over their last seven holes to shoot a 5-over 77 and drop into a share of 15th place.
5. STAR SEARCH
The Zurich Classic undoubtedly made a bold move when it switched to a team format prior to the 2017 edition. So far, the reviews have been mixed; some think it is an entertaining and refreshing change of pace, while others have decried the event for not being “real golf”.
Regardless of the opinion, one thing that hurt the Zurich’s weekend ratings last year was that the stars struggled early. Among the notables missing the 2017 cut was the extraordinarily popular duo of Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, and the Olympic medal duo of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, arguably the two best pairs in a relatively weak field.
The field was considered much strong this year, but unfortunately for the event, it happened again. The inclusion of Jordan Spieth was a boon to the field, but he and fellow Texas-native partner Ryan Palmer missed the cut by a stroke after finishing their second round with back-to-back double bogeys.
World No. 2 Justin Thomas (with Bud Cauley) also failed to make the weekend, and same for groups headlined by World No. 4 Jon Rahm (with Wesley Bryan), and legendary Spaniard Sergio Garcia (with Rafa Cabrera-Bello).
The Sunday action at TPC Louisiana was thrilling, but many more would have seen it if the stars had not again gone into hiding.
“We’re excited, I’m still kind of like ‘is it over?’. My partner was awesome this week, he hit some huge shots and some great chip shots, up and downs that… man, I’m glad I wasn’t having to hit that one. Unfortunately, I put him in that spot, but he sacked up big all week, hit some really big shots, and hats off to him.”
– Scott Piercy, Zurich Classic Co-Champion