Smith holds nerve to claim maiden win with Blixt

Smith holds nerve to claim maiden win with Blixt

Jonas Blixt, of Sweden, left, and teammate Cameron Smith, of Australia, hold up their tournament trophy after they won a sudden-death playoff for the PGA Zurich Classic golf tournament's new two-man team format at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, La., Monday. — AP

MIAMI — Australia’s Cameron Smith clinched his maiden PGA Tour title on Monday, rolling in a birdie putt on the fourth hole of sudden death to clinch victory with partner Jonas Blixt in the Zurich Classic.

Smith, who had earlier missed a birdie putt to win on the opening playoff hole, made no mistake at the second opportunity to seal a win over Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown at the TPC Louisiana in New Orleans.

The Brisbane-born Smith, who earned a PGA Tour exemption through to 2019 with the victory, was lost for words immediately after his triumph. “I can’t even talk,” Smith told a television reporter on the green, his eyes brimming with tears.

It was left to partner Blixt to pay tribute to the 23-year-old, who signaled his promise with a fourth-place finish at the 2015 US Open after reaching the event through qualifying. “I feel like I had the best partner here,” Blixt said of Smith.

“He’s been playing great all week. He’s going to be a superstar one day. I’m very proud of him. Having seen the way he plays golf, the sky’s the limit for him,” Blixt added. The playoff had gone to a fourth hole after players on both sides fluffed chances to win on the opening three holes of sudden death.

Kisner and Brown both squandered birdie putts on the 18th to open with a pair of pars, leaving Smith with his first opportunity to roll in a birdie putt for the win. But the Australian’s nerves got the better of him and he sent his shot just wide, grazing the lip of the cup on the way.

It was Kisner’s turn to miss a birdie putt to win on the second hole of sudden death, again on the 18th. That sent the group to a third hole, the par-three ninth. After Kisner and Brown hit tee shots onto the green but far from the pin, Blixt seemed to have seized control with a superb five-iron which rolled up six feet short of the flag.
But once again with victory begging, nerves struck again, the Swede’s putt trickling past to send it back to the 18th for the fourth playoff hole and Smith’s chance for redemption.

Kisner and Brown had forced the playoff after a sensational finale to Sunday’s fourth round which saw Kisner hole out for an eagle in near-darkness on the 18th to deprive Smith and Blixt of the win.

Kisner chipped in for eagle on the 72nd hole on Sunday  to force a Monday playoff. Darkness was falling as Kisner’s chip rolled across the green, hit the pin and dropped, with Australia’s Smith responding with a birdie putt from inside two feet that kept him and Sweden’s Blixt in the title hunt.

“I just told myself, get it there,” Kisner said. “It’s just one of those shots that you dream about.”
Both teams finished regulation on 27-under par 261 after Sunday’s better-ball round, in which Blixt and Smith shot 64 and Kisner and Brown carded a sizzling 60.

The tournament is the first US PGA Tour team event in 36 years. It featured two-man teams playing two better ball rounds and two alternate shot rounds.
Blixt and Smith have barely put a foot wrong, finishing regulation play without a bogey. They led after 36 and 54 holes, and withstood a furious charge by Kisner and Brown, who birdied 10 of their first 11 holes to grab the lead. Six of those birdies came before play was halted for more than six hours as thunderstorms swept through.
With Blixt’s birdie at 16 and Smith’s at 17 the duo regained a one-shot lead. It looked like that would be enough when Smith then gave himself a short birdie putt at 18.

But Kisner’s chip-in means all four will return on Monday morning to settle things. “Well, we knew we had to have it,” Kisner said. “All I was trying to do was make sure I didn’t leave it short, and I couldn’t see much. I knew it was breaking a little right, and when it hit the flag, I said, ‘Don’t you come out of there.’ I knew I was going to make it the whole time. No, I’m just kidding.”

Blixt said he and Smith were confident in their games, so when Kisner and Brown mounted their charge “I wasn’t really stressed out about it.” “Someone had to get hot in order to catch us today, and they did,” Blixt said.

Americans Kelly Kraft and Kevin Tway were third after combining for a 61 that left them on 265. It was further stroke back to former world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and fellow Texan Ryan Palmer, who carded a 64 for 266. — Agencies