By Sam McPherson
Weather forced a three-round, shortened finish at the Zurich Classic on Monday. However, it couldn’t dampen the excitement at TPC Louisiana, as three players qualified for a playoff to determine the champion. After Byeong-Hun An bogeyed the first playoff hole, Brian Stuard birdied the next hole to beat out Jamie Lovemark and claim his first PGA Tour victory.
All three playoff participants finished at 15-under par through three rounds, in what proved to be a low-scoring affair. An shot a third-round 65 to make the playoff, but couldn’t sustain that momentum into the Monday playoff. Lovemark (68) and Stuard (69) did just enough to hold off a hard-charging trio of Bobby Wyatt, Chris Kirk and Jason Day on Monday morning. Wyatt shot a 64 to finish one stroke out of the playoff, with Kirk’s 65 leaving him one stroke behind Wyatt. Day, the World No. 1, shot a third-round 66, leaving him tied with Kirk for fifth place.
Day led all tournament participants in driving distance at 312.2 yards per tee shot, but it wasn’t enough on the rain-soaked course. Meanwhile, Stuard’s putting paved the way for his first Tour win. He averaged just 1.588 putts per hole en route to claiming the first-place prize of $1.26 million. In his prior Tour events this season, Stuard had missed three cuts and finished no higher than 25th place, earning a total of just $70,095.
On the first playoff hole, both Lovemark and Stuard made pars on the 18th, while An badly misplayed a chip shot from just off the green to remove himself from contention. Lovemark seemed to have an edge on the par-five, as he finished fifth in driving distance for the tournament (304.3 yards). However, he couldn’t leverage that advantage on the 54th hole or either playoff holes for what could have been his first career Tour win.
Stuard’s final birdie was enough to win the Zurich Classic, but his steady approach shots and firm putting strike put him in that position. He played bogey-free golf through three rounds and two playoff holes, something no other golfer accomplished. For the tournament, Stuard finished 17th in driving accuracy (76.2 percent). And even though he finished near the bottom of the pack in greens-in-regulation category (63 percent), his ability to sink putts proved key. Still, it was an approach shot on the final playoff hole — to get within three feet of the cup — that gave Stuard the big win.
Valero Texas Open champion Charley Hoffman followed up his win in San Antonio with an 11th-place tie at TPC Louisiana, helped by a third-round 66. Fan favorite Rickie Fowler carded a 67 on Monday to finish in a tie for 20th place. Of the 82 golfers who made the cut, only 13 shot over par (72) in the third round.
Next On The Tee: Wells Fargo Championship
The Wells Fargo Championship is played at the Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, and this year’s purse is expected to once again top $7 million. Defending champion Rory McIlroy, who also won in 2010, will be in the field to defend his title against other recent champions: J.B. Holmes (2014), Derek Ernst (2013), Rickie Fowler (2012), Lucas Glover (2011) and Sean O’Hair (2009). Overall, nine former Wells Fargo champions are expected to compete this year.
The world’s top two golfers — Day and Jordan Spieth — will not play. But No. 3 McIlroy will be joined by fellow top-10 golfers Fowler (No. 5), Henrik Stenson (No. 6), Adam Scott (No. 7), Dustin Johnson (No. 8) and Justin Rose (No. 10). Other notables for the crowds at Quail Hollow to watch will include this year’s RBC Heritage victor Branden Grace and Shell Houston Open winner Jim Herman. Zurich Classic runner-up Lovemark also plans to participate in the Wells Fargo Championship.
Still more big names are scheduled to play in the packed field in Charlotte. Those include 2009 British Open champion, Stewart Cink, 2003 U.S. Open champion, Jim Furyk, 1997 PGA Championship winner, Davis Love III, and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson. Any way you slice it, the field is loaded at the Wells Fargo Championship this year.
The Quail Hollow Club course plays 7,469 yards long and is a par 72.
Favorites: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day
Players to Watch: Jamie Lovemark, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.