Oosthuizen, Schwarztel fall short in New Orleans play-off

Apr 26, 2021 | Featured, South Africans abroad

Team golf on Sunday at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans was sensational at times, a tidal ebb and flow of momentum between a talented Aussie tandem and a seasoned and gritty pair from South Africa. Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, representing Oz, and their counterparts from South Africa, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel – Presidents Cup teammates all – put on a show to the end, and were enjoying every second of the grand theatre.

And then one bad swing leading to an errant tee ball on the first extra hole in foursomes (alternate-shot), and pretty much the music stopped. Oosthuizen had been a machine off the tee all day, but he stepped up first and pumped a driver right on the 570-yard finishing hole, into water, requiring Schwartzel to reload from the tee. They would make double bogey. Smith and Leishman were able to make a conservative par on the hole, and Zurich’s championship belts, hard-earned, were theirs to celebrate.

Smith, who won this event in 2017 alongside Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, his Florida neighbour, joined Leishman to shoot a closing two-under 70 in Sunday foursomes, which was one shot better than the South Africans. The teams played off at 20-under 268 after two rounds of four-ball (Thursday/Saturday) and two rounds of foursomes (Friday/Sunday).

Oosthuizen, 38, and Schwartzel, 36, had entered the day with a one-shot lead over the Aussies, who started 18 under alongside Tony Finau and Cameron Champ, who would struggle on Sunday, shooting 76. Schwartzel ran in a 15-footer for birdie at the par-four 15th as Team Australia was making bogey on the hole, and the lead belonged to the South Africans at 21-under.

Leishman then responded in a big way at the short 16th with the shot of the tournament. Smith’s three-wood off the tee at the 302-yard hole got an unlucky break, bounding hard left into water that guards the green. The hole was cut front left. Standing awkwardly on a hill just above the red line signifying the penalty area, Leishman gingerly placed his ball after two failed drops, took measure of what he needed to do from 24 feet, crisply bumped a chip to allow for run out on the slick green, and watched his ball sneak into the hole and drop for three. Birdie. Better yet, he had channelled his inner Tom Watson, and called his shot.

“Yeah, I said to the boys, ‘Why don’t we just chip this in?’” said Leishman, who collected his sixth PGA Tour victory. (The win was Smith’s third.) “It wasn’t the hardest chip in the world, but under the conditions – well, I won’t say it was a must make, but it was certainly very helpful that it went in. I actually forgot to get my ball out of the hole I was so excited. I went over and was high-fiving Cam, and Louis had to throw the ball to me. So yeah, it’s just nice to be able to celebrate with friends. … The atmosphere was great.”

When the South African duo failed to get up and down from beyond the green – Oosthuizen’s solid drive pitched onto the firm putting surface and finished almost 40 yards beyond it, almost in the water – the teams were tied again. Both teams bogeyed the difficult par-three 17th hole and had their chances for birdie on 18 in regulation – Schwartzel from up the hill 20 feet away, and Leishman on a tricky line from 16 feet. They advanced to extra holes, and Oosthuizen, a world-class ball striker seeking his first PGA Tour victory in 11 years, then made the rare and unfortunate unforced error that would cost him and Schwartzel.

“Disappointed,” Oosthuizen said afterward, “but I felt we played well, gave ourselves loads of opportunities. Alternate-shot is always a tough format. But we have a third here (in 2018). We have a second. I feel next time we’ll come back and get the first.”

By Jeff Babineau, PGA TOUR

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