Jonas Blixt, Cameron Smith open four-stroke lead
The Swedish-Australian alliance of Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith is threatening an early retirement for the interest in a format introduced as an interesting alternative to conventional 72-hole tournaments.
The Zurich Classic of New Orleans brought team play back to the PGA Tour this week and Blixt and Smith are on the verge of turning it into a rout by opening a four-stroke lead through 54 holes.
They posted a four-under par 68 in alternate shot at the TPC Louisiana on a windy Saturday that baffled many of their challengers, notably Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer.
The Texas tandem is in fourth, five back, after missing five putts of five feet and in, three by Palmer, two by Spieth, the latter considered the best putter in the world.
“We struck the ball beautifully,” Spieth said. “I think we only missed one green. That was when I missed the green on nine. Our ball striking, if we’d have said we’re going to hit 17 greens today, that would have been ridiculous. And it was.
“We just didn’t have it going [on the greens]. It’s very difficult out here with these grainy greens when you get the wind going one way and the hill and the grain going the other. I ran a few putts way too hard instead of hitting them soft and recognizing how difficult it was. Left my partner in some tough spots.”
Blixt and Smith encountered no such difficulty and have now played 54 holes without a bogey.
“I'm really looking forward to tomorrow,” Blixt said. “Just being out there with Cameron, it's just fun. It's like going back to playing as a kid. You just go out there and have fun and try to make birdies, and I don't feel like there's any stress at all out there and there's no pressure.
“He's always got my back and I try to have his, and I mean, the shots he hit today into the wind that he was faced with was very impressive. He hit them like a seasoned veteran. Well done.”
Blixt has won twice on the PGA Tour. Smith, meanwhile, is seeking his first victory, though he’s not unfamiliar with pressure. In 2015 he finished fourth in the U.S. Open, and late last year lost to Spieth in a playoff at the Australian Open.
The teams of Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown and Charley Hoffman and Nick Watney are tied for second. Kisner and Brown had the best round of the day, a five-under 67, while Hoffman and Watney shot a three-under 69.
“To shoot 69 in these conditions in alternate shot we’re real happy,” Hoffman said.
Potential weather problems on Sunday have caused the PGA Tour to move up tee times up with the final groups teeing off at 8:16 a.m. (CDT).