AVONDALE, La. (AP) — Billy Horschel sensed the time had come for him to win his first PGA Tour event. This could explain the composure he displayed in the face of two final-round weather delays and a 27-foot putt he had to make on the final hole to avert a playoff.
Horschel tied a course record at the TPC Louisiana with an 8-under 64 in the final round of the Zurich Classic on Sunday, which was good enough to win by one stroke over D.A. Points.
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 hadn’t made a long one all week and I said, ‘I’m due,’” Horschel said. “I was like, ‘If it’s my time, this putt needs to go in.’
Soon after, he saw a video replay of his celebration.
“I know it was pretty intense,” he said. “There was a lot going on. It’s celebration time now.”
The 26-year-old former Florida Gator began the day two shots behind third-round leader Lucas Glover and surged into the lead with six straight birdies after the first weather delay. He finished 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.”
The second delay, for lightning, happened before Horschel could take his second shot on the 18th hole, giving him 52 minutes to reflect on what was at stake — $1.19 million and a two-year exemption.
It didn’t really faze him. He said he tends to relax during delays, and almost always plays well after them.
“For some reason it puts me at ease a little bit,” Horschel said. “You don’t know how long your delay is going to be so you’ve just got to go with it and just wait it out. … It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as it could have been.”
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.
Although Horschel had never won on the Tour, he had been playing the best golf of his young career lately, with three top-10 finishes in his past three tournaments — tying for second in Houston, tying for third in San Antonio and tying for ninth in Hilton Head Island, S.C., a week ago.
“I played well. It just wasn’t my time,” Horschel said of his recent top-three finishes. “It was nice that today was my time.”
He has 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 matched several 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, two shots behind Glover. He began to make his move up the leaderboard with his first birdie on the fifth hole.
His string of six straight birdies ran from seventh through 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 within 2 feet to set up his first birdie putt. He made a 9-foot birdie putt on the eighth and then hit a 191-yard tee shot to about 4 feet from the pin to set up a birdie on the par-3 ninth.
He made a birdie putts of 13½ feet on 10, 6 feet on 11 and 15½ 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 on Horschel’s heels. 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 nearly two years, took a two-shot lead into the final round and opened 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 immediately 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 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 wound up finishing tied for fourth with Bobby Gates, five shots off the lead.