Ex-Gator Horschel celebrates first PGA win in New Orleans
AVONDALE, La. Billy Horschel arrived in New Orleans riding a streak of strong performances that made him one of the best players on the PGA Tour never to win a tournament. Not anymore. The 26-year-old former Florida Gator earned his fourth consecutive top-10 finish by rolling in a pressure-packed, 27-foot birdie putt to cap a weather-delayed, 8-under 64 at TPC Louisiana that earned him a victory at the Zurich Classic on Sunday. Horschel's final-day score tied a course record and left him one stroke ahead of D.A. Points. “This whole week I felt like I'm going to get my victory here,” Horschel said. “I felt like, you know, it's got to be sooner or later, and thank God I finally won.”Horschel began the day two shots behind third-round leader Lucas Glover and surged into the lead with six straight birdies after the first of two weather delays for lightning. He finished the tournament at 20 under, narrowly holding off Points, who won the Shell Houston Open last month by a stroke over Horschel and Henrik Stenson. “When a player goes out and shoots 8 under and birdies the last hole to win, hats off to Billy,” said Points, who had a 65. “He's played great all year. He was one shot shy of me at Houston and I'm a shot shy of him here. It's just the way it goes.” Points put pressure on Horschel by hitting out of a bunker to set up a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th. Then Horschel rolled in his long victory-sealing putt, pumping his arms and letting out a triumphant yell before sinking into a crouch and briefly pulling his cap over his face as the crowd roared. “I was like, `If it's my time, this putt needs to go in,“’ Horschel said. The winning round took nearly nine hours to complete. Because thunderstorms were in the forecast, the PGA shuffled the usual tee times to have the leaders tee off around 9 a.m. The second delay began a little after 4:30 p.m., before Horschel could take his second shot on the 18th hole. That gave him 52 minutes to reflect on what was at stake — $1.19 million and a two-year exemption. Yet Horschel said delays seem to relax him and only seem to improve his play. “For some reason it puts me at ease a little bit,” he said. Kyle Stanley shot a 5-under 67 to finish third, while 14-year-old amateur Guan Tianlang of China finished 71st after making his second cut in two PGA events, the first coming at the Masters. In his previous three tournaments, Horschel had tied for second in Houston, tied for third in San Antonio and tied for ninth in Hilton Head Island, S.C. “I played well. It just wasn't my time,” Horschel said of his recent outings. “It was nice that today was my time.” He's also made a PGA Tour-leading 23 straight cuts, and had already earned $1.3 million this year. Now he has nearly doubled that, thanks to a final round that tied a course record that has been recorded eight times, including by Rickey Barnes in Thursday's first round. Moments before Horschel took reporters' questions about his victory, he sat at a podium with the winner's silver cup in front of him, appearing on the verge of tears as he spoke by phone to his wife and parents. Horschel said he had planned to fly home to Jacksonville, Fla., after finishing his round Sunday night, then added “I think that plane has been delayed for a few hours.” He's familiar with celebrating in New Orleans, where he also had his bachelor party. Horschel became the sixth player in the last nine years to celebrate his maiden PGA Tour victory in New Orleans. He also was the sixth first-time winner on the Tour this year. Horschel began the day at 12-under, and started to climb the leaderboard with his first birdie on the fifth hole. His string of six straight birdies ran from the seventh through the 12th holes and moved him to 7 under on the round and 19 under for the tournament. On the par-5 seventh, Horschel chipped from about 89 feet to set up a 2-foot birdie putt. He made a 9-foot birdie putt on the eighth and then hit a soft 6-iron 191 yards off the tee to set up a birdie putt from about 4 feet on the par-3 ninth. He made birdie putts of 13 1 / 2 feet on 10, 6 feet on 11 and 15 1 / 2 feet on 12. Horschel bogeyed the 15th hole after twice hitting into the right rough to fall back into a tie with Points. But Horschel then birdied No. 16 by hitting a 109-yard approach within 5 feet, putting him back at 19-under and restoring his one-shot lead. Points, playing in the same crowd-pleasing group as Horschel, birdied the 10th through 13th holes to stay close. However, he left a 98-yard approach shot 30 feet short and left on 16, where he lost the lead. Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open winner who was looking for his first Tour victory in about two years, opened his final round with five pars — narrowly missing a birdie when his put rimmed out on the first hole. He was about to line up a birdie putt from 27 feet on No. 6 when a horn sounded, signaling nearby lightning. Play was halted and a downpour ensued shortly after, causing a 2-hour, 54-minute delay. Glover two-putted for par when play resumed, then struggled on the par-5 seventh hole, hitting his drive to an uphill lie in the rough on the edge of a pot bunker. That forced him to lay up, and he chipped over the green and wound up with a bogey on a hole that many players birdied or eagled. That dropped him out of the lead for good, and he finished tied for fourth with Bobby Gates, five shots off the lead.
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