Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith prove to be perfect pair at Zurich Classic
April 25, 2021
By Jeff Babineau, PGATOUR.COM
- April 25, 2021
Cameron Smith & Marc Leishman speak following playoff win at Zurich Classic
Team golf on Sunday at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans was sensational at times, a tidal ebb and flow of momentum between a talented Aussie tandem and a seasoned and gritty pair from South Africa. Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, representing Oz, and their counterparts from South Africa, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel – Presidents Cup teammates all – put on a show to the end, and were enjoying every second of the grand theater.
And then one bad swing leading to an errant tee ball on the first extra hole in foursomes (alternate-shot), and pretty much the music stopped. Oosthuizen had been a machine off the tee all day, but he stepped up first and pumped a driver right on the 570-yard finishing hole, into water, requiring Schwartzel to reload from the tee. They would make double bogey. Smith and Leishman were able to make a conservative par on the hole, and Zurich’s championship belts, hard-earned, were theirs to celebrate.
Smith, who won this event in 2017 alongside Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, his Florida neighbor, joined Leishman to shoot a closing 2-under 70 in Sunday foursomes, which was one shot better than the South Africans. The teams played off at 20-under 268 after two rounds of four-ball (Thursday/Saturday) and two rounds of foursomes (Friday/Sunday).
Oosthuizen, 38, and Schwartzel, 36, had entered the day with a one-shot lead over the Aussies, who started 18 under alongside Tony Finau and Cameron Champ, who would struggle on Sunday, shooting 76. Schwartzel ran in a 15-footer for birdie at the par-4 15th as Team Australia was making bogey on the hole, and the lead belonged to the South Africans at 21 under.
Leishman then responded in a big way at the short 16th with the shot of the tournament. Smith’s 3-wood off the tee at the 302-yard hole got an unlucky break, bounding hard left into water that guards the green. The hole was cut front left. Standing awkwardly on a hill just above the red line signifying the penalty area, Leishman gingerly placed his ball after two failed drops, took measure of what he needed to do from 24 feet, crisply bumped a chip to allow for run out on the slick green, and watched his ball sneak into the hole and drop for 3. Birdie. Better yet, he had channeled his inner Tom Watson, and called his shot.
Shot of the Day
Marc Leishman's critical chip-in-birdie is Shot of the Day
“Yeah, I said to the boys, ‘Why don't we just chip this in?’” said Leishman, who collected his sixth PGA TOUR victory. (The win was Smith’s third.) “It wasn't the hardest chip in the world, but under the conditions – well, I won't say it was a must make, but it was certainly very helpful that it went in. I actually forgot to get my ball out of the hole I was so excited. I went over and was high-fiving Cam, and Louis had to throw the ball to me. So yeah, it's just nice to be able to celebrate with friends. … The atmosphere was great.”
When the South African duo failed to get up and down from beyond the green – Oosthuizen’s solid drive pitched onto the firm putting surface and finished almost 40 yards beyond it, almost in the water – the teams were tied again. Both teams bogeyed the difficult par-3 17th hole and had their chances for birdie on 18 in regulation – Schwartzel from up the hill 20 feet away, and Leishman on a tricky line from 16 feet. They advanced to extra holes, and Oosthuizen, a world-class ballstriker seeking his first PGA TOUR victory in 11 years, then made the rare and unfortunate unforced error that would cost him and Schwartzel.
“Disappointed,” Oosthuizen said afterward, “but I felt we played well, gave ourselves loads of opportunities. Alternate-shot is always a tough format. But we have a third here (in 2018). We have a second. I feel next time we'll come back and get the first.”
Richy Werenski and Peter Uihlein tied the day’s low score, a 5-under 67, to climb 15 spots into solo third place at 19 under. Three teams tied for fourth, two shots from the playoff: Billy Horschel-Sam Burns (69); Keith Mitchell-Brandt Snedeker (69); and Keegan Bradley-Brendan Steele (70).
As significant as Leishman’s chip was at 16, the pair pointed to a couple of other key moments in the round that kept them going in the right direction. Leishman hit a brilliant shot into the par-3 ninth, leaving Smith only 7 feet for birdie. Prior to Leishman’s shot, no player had been able to get a shot to stop closer than 30 feet from that flagstick, and only one team had birdied there. Leishman pointed to a key 8-footer that Smith ran in for bogey at the 13th, after their team had taken an unplayable with Leishman’s drive snuggling behind a cypress tree, and he applauded Smith for not going too far left with his tee shot on 18 in the playoff after Oosthuizen had driven his ball right.
“I mean, it’s hard to hit that tee shot,” Leishman said.
Leishman and Smith did not pair together at the last Presidents Cup, but their impressive performance at Zurich should give International captain Trevor Immelman “something to consider’ as he looks to 2022 at Quail Hollow. The two know each other’s games quite well from playing so many practice rounds together, and despite a 10-year difference in age – Leishman is 37, Smith 27 – they get on quite well. The players and their caddies shared a house in New Orleans all week.
Sunday’s victory at Zurich held extra meaning for the Aussies in that it arrived on Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day back home, a day of pause and remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars, and conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.
“I know my family went out to a dawn service yesterday morning and paid their respects, so maybe we have got a bit of good karma out there today because of that,” Smith said. “Really cool … the Anzac spirit definitely held up today.”
With the trophy sitting between them and each in possession of a championship belt – Leishman actually was already wearing his – and with both stating they are committed to representing Australia in the Summer Olympics, there was but one last hard-pressing matter for them to address. Smith had told his girlfriend that if he won this week, he would shave his mullet. (Leishman said the mullet has a cult following all its own.) Sorry, Smith said, but trimming his long mane isn’t in his plans.
“I feel it’s a part of me now,” Smith said. As is a second Zurich title, with a buddy he relished sharing it with. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.