What a difference a year makes for Nick Hardy at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
A year ago, Hardy’s rookie season on the PGA Tour took a turn for the worse when he suffered a left wrist injury, forcing him to miss two months. He was sidelined for two months and had to earn back his playing privileges through a medical extension.
On Sunday, Hardy partnered with Davis Riley in the two-man team competition to shoot a bogey-free 7-under 65 at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, Louisiana and win the Zurich Classic by two strokes over the Canadian team of Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor. Hardy and Riley 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.
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.
Beginning the day three strokes back of the lead, they did most of the damage in the final round on the back nine. Riley wedged to 6 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. At 16, Hardy stuck the landing on a wedge and they took the outright lead at 29 under. Riley had one more trick up his sleeves, holing a putt from off the green at 17.
A par on the 18th sealed the deal on a 65 in the final round, 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,” Hadwin said.
Riley, who finished T-4 last year as a rookie with Will Zalatoris, was on the fence about even playing in the team event this year. Hardy 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 jumped at the opportunity.
“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.”
For a while, it looked like the Canadians might be wearing the champions’ belts. They 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.”
But when the streak ended so did the birdies. Hadwin and Taylor finished with five straight pars, including a 6-foot birdie putt at the last that lipped out. Still, it tied the tournament 18-hole record in foursomes, which had been set two days ago by Cantlay and Schauffele.
“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 consecutive bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17, and finished third after a 71.
The defending champions tied for fourth after shooting a final-round 66.
“We didn’t have our best stuff throughout the course of the tournament,” Schauffele said.