AVONDALE, La. – Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown lead the Zurich Classic by one stroke entering the final round, but TPC Louisiana and this entire tournament have already won big.
Saturday’s Round 3 best ball took place on an absurdly ideal spring day in New Orleans. Heavy showers caused multiple delays throughout the 2016 tournament and forced a shortened Monday finish, but players have stayed dry all week save a few holes early Thursday.
Crowds were modest at best early in the week but really picked up Friday and Saturday, which is even more impressive considering Jazz Fest was taking place just 15 miles to the northeast at Fair Grounds Race Course in the seventh ward. The music festival runs two weeks with a lineup featuring just about every great artist alive, but a healthy number of Louisianans chose to take in some PGA Tour golf instead.
The tournament drew record crowds last year in the first year of the team format. Exact attendance numbers weren’t available, but a tournament official said the crowds were slightly bigger Saturday than they were last year.
Most of all, this is a desirable week for players due to the team format, the only reason this tournament went from an annual afterthought to one capable of drawing four of the five top-ranked players in the world.
“It’s always a refreshing thing, and it’s cool to have a tournament that’s different and the way you approach it is quite a bit different,” said Tony Finau, who is one shot off the lead and T-2 with partner Daniel Summerhays. “It’s a cool event and a cool format. One that I look forward to each year to have, not only this guy as a partner, but to play in a team event is something that’s different and for sure refreshing.”
Since players can pick their partners, there’s a more congenial atmosphere then you’ll see from three random dudes paired together on a given Thursday on Tour.
After carding a disappointing 4-under 68 to fall out of contention Saturday, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson were still smiling. Their wives are good friends and they have kids around the same age, which is part of the reason the pairing made sense. So after a tough day on the course they were greeted by their families outside the scoring area behind the 9th green and just hung out and laughed for a while, caddies and all.
You don’t see that most weeks. Most guys are in a hurry to leave after signing for a below-average score, in some sort of trance-like state as they prepare for another routine 18 holes of stroke play the following day.
Kisner and Brown thrived in a one-week break from the mundaneness of it all, carding an 8-under 64. They finished runner-up and lost in a playoff during a Monday morning finish a year ago.
Michael Kim and Andrew Putnam are tied with Finau and Summerhays at 19 under. 2012 Zurich winner Jason Dufner and partner Pat Perez are tied with 2013 winner Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy at 17 under.
Sunday’s final round should be a wild one, because scores can fluctuate so much from best ball to alternate shot. The team of Xinjun Zhang and Zecheng Dou were tied for the lead after shooting 60 in Round 1 best ball and missed the cut following an 80 in Round 2 alternate shot.
That is to say, it looks like an event which dared to be different in a sport where status quo is everything will be rewarded with an unpredictable finish.
“Alternate shot is a whole different animal,” Finau said. “We rolled the ship pretty good out there yesterday and just looking forward to having fun out there tomorrow, because being in contention is a fun atmosphere.”