Date: May 01, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes

Epic eagle forces Smith to playoff

Kevin Kisner hit a shot that will live forever in Australian golf fans’ minds today – whether it’s ultimately positive or negative remains on a knife’s edge.

As darkness fell on a rain-savaged Zurich Classic, Kisner caught skinny his 30m third shot to the par-five 18th, but watched in disbelief as his ball hit the pin hard and fell for eagle.

At that point, with Cam Smith inside 50cm for a birdie, it was realistically the last roll of the dice for Kisner and his fellow American Scott Brown as they trailed the Australian and his teammate Jonas Blixt by a stroke on the final hole of the team event.

But the eagle vaulted them momentarily back in front before Smith calmly knocked in his birdie to force a playoff.

After a day of high drama and a six-hour rain delay, the US PGA Tour had no choice but to schedule the decider for a fifth morning – leaving the miraculous shot’s fall-out up in the air.

A win would be a first on American soil, with his best finish a T4 at the 2015 US Open.  But he is coming off a tie for sixth at last week’s Texas Open.

A loss would still be a wonderful result and a great help in retaining his card for next season, but it would also add Kisner’s name to a long list of last-gasp chip-ins that have ripped victory out of Australian hands on the US PGA Tour – the names Mize, Tway and Gamez immediately spring to mind.

To be perfectly fair to the Americans, whose round will doubtless be recalled for its last blow, their closing round of 60 was nothing short of spectacular.

They made eight straight birdies – on either side of a six-hour rain delay – to open their round and turned a four-shot deficit into a two-stroke lead by the ninth tee.

But Smith and Blixt, whose rounds of 67-62-68-64 were almost flawless, weren’t to be denied.

The young Queenslander was absolutely sensational in firing five back-nine birdies and when his 2m birdie putt on the 17th dropped, he and the Swede – who had also birdied the 16th – were, incredibly, in front again.

But the eagle dashed their victory hopes, temporarily at least.

Remarkably, Smith and Blixt didn’t endure a single bogey all week, but so hot were the Americans that some wags had them on “54 watch” after their opening salvo.

But Smith’s hot back-nine hand helped them to cool off as the contest became an epic.

Melbourne’s Cameron Percy and his American partner Grayson Murray were never in a position to win, but also shot an incredible closing 62 to roar through the field late and finish T11 at 18 under.

Former Australian Open champion Matt Jones also made some handy cash, too, when he and Ricky Barnes fired a 65, including an eagle on the 7th, to wind up at 16 under and T22.

Capping a stellar week, Ryan Ruffels and Kyle Stanley closed with a 65 to vault up to 14 under and a share of 29th.

Geoff Ogilvy and his partner Ian Poulter couldn’t find the last-round magic, but their 69 was good enough for 13 under and a share of 32nd.