A Monday finish was required for Queenslander Cameron Smith to claim his first PGA Tour victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, combining with teammate Jonas Blixt to win the first team event held on the PGA Tour since 1981.
Blixt and Smith overcame Americans Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a sudden-death playoff that lasted four holes after the two teams tied at 27-under par after four rounds.
With Smith close to the flag in three at the par-5 18th, Kisner forced a playoff with a miraculous chip-in for eagle hole in near darkness on Sunday. Kisner’s eagle and Smith’s subsequent birdie extended the new team format event into a Monday finish after bad weather caused a six hour delay on Sunday.
The players returned for the playoff early on Monday morning with Smith the only of the four players without a PGA Tour win to his name. The early start had an almost eerie quality with few fans on hand and even the caddies completing the opening hole without their traditional bibs, before being given bibs adorned in Zurich Classic logos for the remainder of the playoff.
All four players appeared cautious as they halved the par-5 18th in pars twice to send the playoff to the par-3 9th for the third hole of sudden-death where the Smith/Blixt duo looked to have it won when the Swede hit his tee shot straight at the flag.
With the chance to win it for his team Blixt pushed his birdie putt, sending the combatants back to the familiar 18th tee once again. Smith found the fairway for the third time in the playoff before laying up short of the green with his second. The last to play his approach, the Aussie stuck it in close and made his birdie putt to claim victory for his team.
After the victory the 23-year old Aussie was emotional and speechless, not able to get any words out as Dottie Pepper interviewed the winning team on the 18th green. Smith managed only to turn to his partner and utter, “It’s awesome isn’t it.”
Smith and Blixt combined well all week in both the Foursomes (alternate shot) and Four-Ball (bestball) play, not recording a bogey all week. The two Jacksonville residents paired up at the suggestion of Smith’s Kiwi caddie, Sam Pinfold who lives with Blixt and formed a strong combination.
“Our game plan all week, especially in Four-Ball was to stay aggressive,” Smith said of his and Blixt’s approach to the unique format and the playoff.”
Smith was understated when asked about the feeling of holing the final putt to claim victory. The 23-year old said simply of the deciding stroke, “It was pretty cool to knock the putt in for the win.”
Smith is the first Australian to win the Zurich Classic and is now exempt into this year’s Players Championship and PGA Championship, as well as earning a two year PGA Tour exemption.