Fred Couples, 63, oldest player to make cut at the Masters
What a difference a year makes for Nick Hardy at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
A year ago in the final round at TPC Louisiana, Hardy’s rookie season on the PGA Tour took a turn for the worse when he hit a hard gap wedge on the fourth hole and heard a pop in his left wrist and it swelled overnight.
“I was actually in the hospital probably at this point last year,” he said.
Hardy was sidelined for two months and had to earn back his playing privileges earlier this season through a major medical extension.
On Sunday, in Avondale, Louisiana, Hardy partnered with Davis Riley in the two-man team competition to shoot a bogey-free 7-under 65 and win the Zurich Classic by two strokes over the Canadian team of Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor. Hardy, 27, and Riley, 26, combined to make four birdies in a span of five holes on the back nine in the foursomes, or alternate-shot format, to both claim their first PGA Tour title.
“To be able to do that together, kind of rub off each other’s confidence and sort of attitude. It was definitely special to have a partner for the first one,” Hardy said.
Six teams were in the mix down the stretch, including defending champions Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, but Hardy and Riley’s birdie binge down the stretch helped them set a tournament record at 30-under 258.
“Being golfers, you always want to be in control,” Riley said. “It’s pretty nerve-racking kind of watching somebody when you’re not in control. Luckily I’ve got a really good partner, so I wasn’t worried about too much.”
Beginning the day three strokes back of the lead, they did most of their damage in the final round on the back nine. Riley wedged to six feet at No. 13 and Hardy rolled in the birdie putt. One hole later, Riley nearly made an ace at the par-3 14th setting up a kick-in birdie.
“It was the purest 5-iron I’ve ever heard,” Hardy said.
At 16, Hardy stuck the landing on a wedge to 6 feet and they took the outright lead at 29 under. Riley had one more trick up his sleeve, holing a 33-foot putt from off the green at 17.
A par on the 18th sealed the deal on a 65, the second-best round of the day after runners-up Hadwin and Taylor, who started the day seven strokes back, fired a 9-under 63 to finish at 28 under.
“I knew we had to shoot a really good round to even sniff the lead,” Taylor said.
Riley, who finished T-4 last year in New Orleans as a rookie with Will Zalatoris, was on the fence about even playing in the team event this year. Hardy, for that matter, originally planned to play with Thomas Detry, his Illinois University teammate, but European Ryder Cup Captain Luke Donald asked the Belgian Detry to play with Frenchman Victor Perez as a potential Ryder Cup pairing later this fall.
“So the Illini pairing vanished after that,” Hardy said. “I think only a couple weeks, three weeks ago we texted each other, and we got hooked up then.”
Riley, who grew up just across the border in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he lived on the ninth fairway of Canebrake Country Club, just 200 yards from the driving range, jumped at the opportunity to pair up with one of his best friends, who he’s been playing with since they were 14 or 15 years old and partners at the 2014 AJGA Wyndham Cup.
Nick and Davis go way back.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 23, 2023
“We just have very similar games. I feel like we’re both solid ball strikers,” he said. “We’re going to create a lot of opportunity.”
That they most certainly did and as a result they are now exempt into the PGA Championship next month as well as the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January. (Winners of the Zurich Classic team event don’t get an invite to the Masters, which is given to individual winners of regular-season FedEx Cup tournaments, excluding opposite-field events, and official fall events.)
For a while, it looked like a different pair of old friends, the ones from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, might be wearing the champions belts. Hadwin and Taylor reeled off seven straight birdies beginning at No. 7 and held sole possession of the lead after Hadwin canned a 9-foot birdie putt at 13.
“My goodness,” said PGA Tour Radio Network’s Dennis Paulson. “In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t think in alternate shot you could make this kind of run of birdies.”
“I had a great feel for the greens,” Hadwin said. “I rolled in a lot of putts there, especially on that middle stretch when we went on a run.”
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 23, 2023
“That’s the most amount of birdies we made all week, and we did it in alternate shot,” Hadwin said.
The team of Wyndham Clark and Beau Hossler held the 54-hole lead but removed themselves from contention with bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17, and finished third after a 71.
Cantlay and Schauffele put up a respectable title defense, tying for fourth with Taylor Moore and Matthew NeSmith after shooting a final-round 66.
“We didn’t have our best stuff throughout the course of the tournament,” Schauffele said.
Despite feeling as nervous as he’s ever felt before a round, Hardy and Riley had the best stuff when it mattered most — six of their seven birdies came from inside 7 feet — and they’re already talking about defending their title next year.
“It’s on the schedule for me. I hope my partner commits with me now,” Hardy said.
“That’s right,” Riley said. “We’ll definitely be back to defend.”