Avondale, La. — When Scott Piercy tried to deflect credit to Billy Horschel for their nerve-testing, one-shot victory in the Zurich Classic team event, Horschel grinned and went with it.
“I’d like to thank myself for playing well this week,” Horschel began with a laugh. “No, it was great to play with Scott. Our games match up well. We are really good ball-strikers. We think the same way. … I don’t have to worry about him making a bad decision.”
Playing in the same group as Jason Dufner and Pat Perez — who trailed by a mere stroke for the final seven holes — Horschel and Piercy calmly executed one pressure-packed shot after another Sunday, closing with a bogey-free 5-under 67 in alternate shot play that was just good enough.
“All four of us are really great friends. We were chatting it up the entire day — toward the end of the round, a little less,” Horschel said. “You’re going to be anxious, nervous. You’re heart’s going to be racing a little bit, but that says you’re alive. It says you’re alive and in the spot you want to be.”
Horschel became a two-time winner at TPC Louisiana. He captured his maiden PGA Tour triumph at the 2013 Zurich Classic when it was a traditional every-man-for-himself event. His popularity with the crowd was evident with the ovation he receiving approaching the 18th green. He said he loves New Orleans and has close friends in the city.
“I just feel at home here,” Horschel said. “Maybe I should look into buying a house here, but what are the state income taxes? That’s the issue.”
Especially if he keeps playing the way he has lately, having finished tied for fifth at the RBC Heritage two weeks earlier.
Horschel and Piercy surged into the lead with birdies on the 10th and 11th holes. They followed that with seven straight pars. After Horschel narrowly missed a 23-foot birdie putt on 18 that was reminiscent of the one he sank to win on the same green five years ago, Dufner stood over a 14-foot putt for the tie. He left it a foot short.
“Last putt, I didn’t get aggressive with it. Just didn’t quite get speed matched up like I wanted to,” Dufner said before complimenting Horschel on Piercy on how hard they were to chase down. “They didn’t lose a tee all day — and that’s pretty tough in alternate shot.”
This was the second year of the Zurich’s switch to a two-player team format.
The victory was Horschel’s fifth and Piercy’s fourth. They each earned $1.04 million and 400 FedExCup points.
The result did not count toward the world ranking.
A year ago, the Zurich format called for best-ball play in the second and final rounds, with alternate-shot on the first and third. But organizers decided this year to flip that so the final round would have the alternate-shot format, with one player hitting the tee shots on even-numbered holes and the other on odd numbers. That set the stage for substantial moves up or down the leaderboard; players had less margin for error and no choice but the play the lies their teammates left them on the previous shot.
Horschel liked the change because “the better players, the better teams obviously are going to rise on Sunday. It’s a lot more volatility. … I felt the way we played — how good of ball-strikers we are — I felt like we could really make up a lot of ground.”
Horschel and Piercy began the day three shots back, but immediately surged into contention with birdies on the first two holes.
Piercy’s 146-yard approach set up Horschel’s 5-foot birdie putt on the opening hole. On the par-5 second hole, Piercy chipped to 4 feet to set up Horschel for birdie again.
Horschel returned the favor on the par-5 seventh with a chip to 3 feet and did even better on the 10th, dropping a 148-yard approach shot a foot from the hole.
Horschel’s 88-foot wedge out of a greenside bunker stopped less than 2 feet from the hole on the par-5 11th to set up his team’s final birdie.
“With Billy’s course knowledge and comfort level here, I just had to do a little bit and he could kind of take over,” Piercy said.
Heading into the final round, Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown, the 2017 runners-up in a playoff, topped a crowded leaderboard that featured 13 teams within four shots of the lead. By the time the top five teams had all reached the back nine, they were all within two shots of one another.
This time, Kisner and Brown faded on the back nine with three bogeys and one double-bogey, and tied for 15th at 15 under.
The team of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel finished third at 20 under. Tied for fourth at 19 under were the teams of Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Paisley, and Brice Garnett and Chesson Hadley.
Brian Stuard (Oakland/Jackson) and Chris Stroud finished tied for 28th at 11 under.
Garnett and Hadley began the day two shots back but briefly led after four birdies on the front nine. However, they bogeyed the par-4 13th when they struggled with a massive fairway bunker on the Pete Dye-designed course, and also bogeyed the par-3 14th and par-3 17th.
Lydia Ko hit a 3-wood to 3 feet for eagle to finish off Minjee Lee on the first hole of a playoff in the chilly LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship at Daly City, Calif.
Ko won her 15th LPGA Tour title and first since July 2016, a 43-event stretch marked by changes in instructors, caddies and equipment and a large weight loss. Five days after turning 21, the New Zealander won for the third time at Lake Merced after taking the Swinging Skirts LPGA in 2014 and 2015.
Twenty yards behind Lee in the fairway on the par-5 18th in the playoff, Ko hit a 3-wood that cleared the tree limbs on the right, landed in front of the green and rolled inches by on the right side.
Lee, the 21-year-old Australian who won the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced, hit her second shot into the rough near the right greenside bunker and made a 10-foot birdie putt.
Ko closed with a 1-under 71 to match Lee at 12-under 276. Lee had her second straight 68.
Ko holed a flop shot for birdie on the par-4 13th, two-putted for birdie on the par-5 15th and matched Lee with an up-and-down birdie on the 18th to force the playoff.
Lee holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie on the par-3 17th.
Korda, a stroke ahead of Ko and Lee with nine holes left, finished with a 74 to drop into a tie for third at 8 under with Angel Yin (67), Shanshan Feng (68) and Charley Hull (70).
At Beijing, Alexander Bjork of Sweden closed with a 7-under 65 to claim a one-stroke victory in the China Open for his first European Tour title.
Bjork, who trailed by one stroke going into the final round, made his final birdie on the 17th hole and finished at 18-under 270 at Topwin Golf and Country Club. And then he had to wait to see if it would be enough. Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Matt Wallace of England, who shared the 54-hole lead, each needed eagle on the par-5 18th to force a playoff.
Oategui made birdie for a 67 and was runner-up. Wallace (68) made par and shared third with Jordan Smith (64) and Jorge Campillo (68).
Wu Ashun had a 66-67 weekend and tied for seventh, the best finish among Chinese players.
At Newburgh, Ind., Jose de Jesus Rodriguez of Mexico shot a 2-under 70 and won the United Leasing & Finance Championship by one shot over Wyndham Clark for his first Web.com Tour title.
Rodriguez started the final round one shot behind Maverick McNealey and seized control when he reached the turn at Victoria National. McNealey bogeyed No. 6, Rodriguez birdied the next two holes and McNealey dropped another shot at the ninth, giving the Mexican a three-shot lead going to the back nine.
Rodriguez dropped two shots over the last four holes, but by then he had the tournament wrapped up.
Clark closed with a 67 to finish alone in second. McNealey closed with a 74 and tied for third with Kyoung-Hoon Lee (66).
Rodriguez won twice in 2011 on the Canadian tour, twice in 2013 on the Latin American tour and twice more last year to win the PGA Tour Latinoamerica money title. The 37-year-old Rodriguez moved to No. 3 on the money list and is virtually assured of earning a PGA Tour card for next year.