Saturday’s roundup: Blixt-Smith tandem widens lead
Avondale, La. — Jonas Blixt of Sweden and Cameron Smith of Australia apparently are enjoying playing as teammates too much to be unsettled by wind gusts reaching 36 miles per hour.
The pair extended their bogey-free run to three rounds in the new team format at the Zurich Classic, deftly adjusting to winds that unsettled many other PGA Tour pros and posting a 4-under 68 Saturday to widen their lead to four strokes.
“It’s like going back to playing as a kid,” the 33-year-old Blixt said. “I don’t feel like there’s any stress at all out there.”
Alternating shots on Saturday, as teams did in the first round, the Blixt-Cameron partnership posted four birdies to improve to 19-under, building on a lead that stood at one shot through two rounds. They are the only team without a bogey.
“Feels like back in the amateur days,” Smith said of playing in the first team event held on the PGA Tour since 1981, about 12 years before he was born. “It’s just nice to go out there and relax and have some fun.”
The Kevin Kisner-Scott Brown and Nick Watney-Charley Hoffman teams were tied for second. Also in contention are Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer, five shots behind — although they could have been several shots closer if not for some uncharacteristic misses of short putts by both players.
Spieth missed a 3-footer for birdie on the par-5 18th, wasting Palmer’s well-executed 86-yard approach shot. Throughout the round, Spieth was among players backing away from shots when they sensed a gust building and said the wind affected putting “significantly.”
“When you get a putt where the wind is blowing one way and you’ve got the grain the other, and the hill back with the wind, you just have no idea what that putt is going to do,” Spieth said. “If it gusts or doesn’t gust when you’re over it, it affects the putt by an entire cup, even from 6 or 7 feet. It’s really a guessing game.”
So expect more guessing in the final round, which will start earlier than planned — at 6:40 a.m. — because of rain in the forecast. The format will return to “best ball,” as in the second round, with each two-man team taking the best score of either player per hole.
Palmer narrowly missed par putts from within 3 feet on the second and 13th holes.
“You get winds whipping and swirling, it makes right-to-left putts break right,” Palmer said. “It’s tough.”
Blixt and Smith didn’t fail to execute many shots on the 7,425-yard TPC Louisiana course, which was carved out of cypress swamp and has a number of water hazards from which alligators took in the action, some climbing onto the course at the water’s edge.
The pair quickly recovered from minor errors or bad bounces. They wound up attempting only one par putt longer than 8 feet; Blixt rolled it in from 11 feet on the fifth. Blixt also made a putt of nearly 18 feet for birdie on the third hole.
“Sometimes things, bounces, stuff like that weren’t going our way, and we managed to get it up near the green and get it up and down, which kept the momentum going,” Smith said.
Brian Stuard (Jackson), who won the Zurich last year when it was a traditional stroke-play event, and teammate Chris Stroud were alone in fifth at 13-under.
The teams of Kelly Kraft and Kevin Tway, and Angel Cabrera and Julian Etulian, were tied for sixth at 12-under.
Seven teams were tied for eighth at 11-under, including popular Gulf Coast native Bubba Watson and teammate J.B. Holmes.
As much fun as Blixt and Smith seem to be having, the pressure could mount a bit as they try to protect their final-round lead. Each golfer takes home $1.02 million and 400 FedEXCup points. Never mind that the 23-year-old Smith has never won a PGA Tour event. But Smith noted that with each team keeping the best score per hole in the final round, there’s always the possibility for the veteran Blixt, who has won twice, to pick up the slack.
“I feel very comfortable going into tomorrow,” Smith said. “Jonas is playing so well … it’s just like having a backup.”
At Irving, Texas, Haru Nomura of Japan shot a 1-over 72 on another windy day on the LPGA Tour in North Texas to extend her lead through three rounds despite a late double bogey.
Nomura was at 8-under 205 Saturday — two strokes ahead of Cristie Kerr, two-time Texas winner Inbee Park and 17-year-old amateur Eun Jeong Seong.
Stacy Lewis won at Texas in 2014 and had the day’s best round with a bogey-free 66. Tied for 44th place after 36 holes, Lewis moved up to fifth place.
There were winds of about 20 mph and a threatening storm that created difficult conditions for the second straight day.
Nomura led by only one stroke going into the third round. She stretched that to four before a double bogey at the par-3 17th hole.
At Beijing, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa moved three strokes clear of the China Open field after carding an 8-under-par 64 in the third round.
Frittelli birdied eight holes in a bogey-free round at the Topwin Golf and Country Club to get to 19 under.
Pablo Larrazabal of Spain was his nearest challenger at 16 under after a 70.
Frittelli birdied the 15th to go two shots in front. When he made par from the sand on the 16th and Larrazabal bogeyed, the lead turned into three. Both of them birdied their last hole.
Alexander Levy of France, the 2014 champion, was third at 12 under after a 71.
Frittelli, who is bidding for his first European Tour title, tied the course record of 63 on Friday, a day after Levy. Frittelli tied for fifth in Shenzhen last weekend.
English golfer Chris Wood scored 65 with just a single bogey to get to 11 under, a shot clear of South Korea’s Moon Kyong-jun and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger.
Home favorites Li Haotong and Yi Cao were at 9 under alongside South African George Coetzee and South Korea’s Lee Soo-min.