Zurich Classic: Frenetic Friday Four-Ball Shakes Up Leaderboard

Apr 28, 2017; Avondale, LA, USA; Cameron Smith watches his shot from the rough on the 10th hole during the second round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans golf tournament at TPC Louisiana. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2017; Avondale, LA, USA; Cameron Smith watches his shot from the rough on the 10th hole during the second round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans golf tournament at TPC Louisiana. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /

Scores were incredibly low at the Zurich Classic on Friday, but several big names will be going home early

If the Zurich Classic’s opening round of alternate shot was a team chess match, Friday’s four-ball was more like demolition derby. The nature of the “best ball” format rewards aggression, and minimizes penalties for smart teams.

With both members of a team completing a hole, but only counting the best score, most players feel free to take a “go big or go home” mentality. After all, especially at the PGA TOUR level, par is basically a given most of the time. It’s still a volatile game, though, and we’ve got the leaderboard shakeups to show for it.

The big winner of the day was the team of Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith. Starting Friday’s round one shot off the lead at five-under, Blixt and Smith put up a scorching 10-under round of 62. At -15, they enter the weekend with sole possession of the lead.

Blixt and Smith were one of five teams to post 62, alongside the second-place team of Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay, and Troy Merritt and Robert Streb, who moved into a tie for third.

Retief Goosen, Tyrone van Aswegen flirt with 59

While the best-ball format would certainly put a tiny asterisk next to the score, 59 still has the luster of being the “magic number”. Surprisingly, the team of Retief Goosen and Tyrone van Aswegen came dangerously close, posting the lowest round of the day at 12-under 60.

Zurich Classic
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The South African countrymen desperately needed the shot in the arm that 60 provided. Following a tough opening round, the duo found themselves at one-over and facing an uphill battle just to play the weekend. Now, inside the top ten, they have a real chance at a strong finish.

While Goosen, 48, has had a solid career highlighted by two U.S. Open victories, some extra prize money and FedEx Cup points would be a boon for the 35-year-old van Aswegen. After bouncing back and forth between the Web.com Tour and the PGA TOUR, a winner’s check would go a long way towards his 2018 Tour card.

Superstar teams stumbled in tougher weather

The top of the leaderboard is littered with players who would generously be called “dark horses” most weeks. Cameron Smith is currently 112th in the Official World Golf Ranking. K.J. Choi, whose last win was at The PLAYERS Championship in 2011, is 205th. While they have taken advantage of the team format, though, several superstars have fallen off the pace.

2017 Zurich Classic Rickie Fowler
Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /

Olympic medalists and Ryder Cup teammates Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson are headed home early. Jason Day and Rickie Fowler missed the cut as well. Neither team played particularly poorly at TPC Louisiana, especially considering the windy conditions. In a format where par is a punishment, though, they simply didn’t take advantage of birdie chances.

First-round co-leaders Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer will be sticking around for the weekend, but it wasn’t easy. Through 12 holes, the team was just one-under for the day, and hovering at seven-under for the event. Putts weren’t sinking, and they were in danger of missing the cut.

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The golf gods smiled, though, when Spieth made a dagger of a birdie on the fourth hole.

"“Then we just saw a putt go in,” Spieth said. “The hole looked so small. It was burning right edge, left edge, short, long. … “Finally, that one goes in, and we were walking to 5 saying, ‘All right, the lid is off.’”"

The Texans each made three birdies in the final six holes, sharing matching 3’s on the par-4 eighth, to come in at six-under on the day. Just three shots off the lead with alternate-shot back on the docket for Saturday, they’re back in contention.

The new Zurich Classic formula is working perfectly – so far

As I wrote earlier this week, the PGA TOUR needs more excitement on a week-to-week basis. That doesn’t mean to give every event some unique gimmick. The golf still needs to stand for itself. However, I don’t imagine you’ll find too many people complaining that the Zurich Classic is lacking in excitement.

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The scores are low, and there’s an air of unpredictability. There are big stars in contention, and some even seasoned golf followers would need to look up. If the next two days live up to the first, this looks like a strong success.