Stuard takes Zurich Classic in playoff for 1st PGA win
AVONDALE, LA. >> Brian Stuard made steady golf pay off on a waterlogged course in the haunting cypress swamps outside New Orleans.
The 33-year-old Stuard birdied the final hole of a largely unspectacular final round to sneak into a three-way playoff on Monday, then beat Jamie Lovemark on the second extra hole to capture his maiden PGA Tour triumph at the Zurich Classic.
Stuard never bogeyed a hole throughout the tournament on the long (7,425-yard), par-72 TPC Louisiana course, which was drenched with more than 41/2 inches of rain during the tournament. Weather delays on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday not only forced a Monday finish but also led officials to shorten the tournament to 54 holes.
"I wasn't playing great. I was just kind of, I don't know ... hanging around," Stuard said after his final-round 69, which wasn't even among the top 20 scores on the day. "I kind of hung in there all week. I just didn't get too ahead of myself and just stayed real patient."
Lovemark, Stuard and Byeong-Hun An entered the playoff at 15 under par.
An unraveled on the first playoff hole and Lovemark on the second while Stuard remained composed, virtually clinching the win with a 160-yard approach to within 21/2 of the pin for an easy birdie putt.
Stuard's best previous PGA Tour finishes were a pair of second places in Mexico, one in 2010 and the other in 2014. He arrived in New Orleans with conditional status on the PGA Tour, meaning he could only play in tournaments that had room for him when enough higher-ranked players skipped the event. His victory not only earned him $1.26 million, it also gives him a two-year exemption allowing him to play in majors and any other Tour event he wants.
"I've always been, I guess, a journeyman kind of player, just always grinded it out," said Stuard, who became the seventh first-time winner in New Orleans in the past 11 years. "You just had to have the confidence to say, 'One day, it's going to be your time."'
Lovemark came in with only five career top-10 finishes, but four of those had come this season.
"I feel good," Lovemark said after his best finish since his only other second place in 2009. "Not too disappointed. Just a little bummed, but moving on to next week."
Jason Day, the world's top-ranked player, wound up tied for fifth with Chris Kirk at 13 under.
"I just wish it was 72 holes," Day said. "At least I gave myself an opportunity to be around the leaders."
The saturated course rewarded players most adept at hitting long in the air off the tee and aiming right for the pin on approach shots. On many shots, balls hardly moved upon landing.
Players sometimes struggled to gauge abnormally slow greens. It happened to Lovemark at the most pivotal or moments; he left a 91/2-foot birdie putt for the win just inches short on the 18th green.
The narrow miss seemed to unsettle Lovemark, whose shots became erratic. He managed to par the 18th on the first playoff hole, but his approach on the second playoff — also on 18 — found a muddy area near the grandstand, well left of the green.
An did not look like a contender entering Monday, but he shot up the leaderboard with birdies on 11, 13, 14 and 15. His 5-foot birdie putt on 18 landed him in the playoff — marking only his second top 10 and his first top three. But he botched consecutive approach shots on the first playoff hole, leaving him with a bogey that ended his tournament.
Bobby Wyatt, a 23-year-old making his ninth PGA Tour start on a sponsor invitation, briefly surged into the lead with an eagle and six birdies on his first 13 holes of his final round. But three-putts for bogeys on the 14th and 15th cost him.
"I certainly haven't been in this position a lot, so I think probably some of it is nerves," Wyatt said.
A birdie on 16, highlighted by a 138-yard approach shot to within four feet of the hole, followed by a 7-foot putt on 18 for his eighth birdie of the round, left him alone in fourth at 14 under.
He still felt like a winner in the big scheme of things. His first top-10 finish earned him $336,000 and qualified him for a 10th Tour start at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte later this week.
"I found out I can play with these guys," he said.
Notes: A PGA Tour event hadn't been shortened to 54 holes since the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Golf Club. ... The last Monday finish was at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in early February.
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