The weather won again Sunday at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
PGA Tour officials tried to get the rain-delayed third round in with an early-morning start Sunday, but golf was played for only 2½ hours before another weather system moved in and hovered over the TPC Louisiana layout to spoil all hopes of having a 72-hole event.
After a delay of 6 hours, 32 minutes, play was officially suspended for the day at 4:40 p.m., and the tournament was reduced to 54 holes for only the third time in the 68-year history of New Orleans’ PGA Tour event.
The 82 players who made the cut will return to the rain-soaked course at 7 a.m. Monday — weather-permitting — to try to complete the third and final round. While it will only be a 54-hole event, the final day figures to be an interesting one if the weather holds up.
Co-leaders Brian Stuard and Jhonattan Vegas will be pursued by seven golfers within three shots of the lead — including Jason Day, the world’s No. 1 player.
Stuard and Vegas are tied at 13-under-par through five holes, and Bobby Wyatt is one stroke back through nine holes. Jamie Lovemark is in fourth at 11-under, while Day, Charley Hoffman, Chris Kirk, Charles Howell III and Scott Stallings are all at 10-under. Hoffman and Stallings have only four holes remaining, but the other seven all have at least nine holes to play.
“You have to go back out on the course and start focusing,” Day said during Sunday’s rain delay. “If you lose focus, you’re going to start making mistakes. Right now, I’m 10-under, but anything can happen on the back side.”
Vegas caught Stuard, who led by one stroke after the second round, with birdies on the first two holes under threatening skies before parring the next three holes.
Stuard, a non-winner playing in his 101st career PGA Tour event, retained a share of the lead by matching Vegas’ birdie at the par-5 second. He also had three pars in a row before the horn sounded to clear the course at 10:08 a.m.
While play was stopped, the co-leaders knew their work had hardly begun.
“Once we get back out, you’re going to have to be aggressive because, obviously, some guys are moving up behind us that have already been out there for a few more holes,” Stuard said. “You’re going to have to make some birdies and just keep going.”
If there is a break in the weather, scores could go down after the greens absorbed 1.2 inches of rain Saturday afternoon, shortly after the third round began, and another 1.6 inches Sunday.
Vegas said he was having a difficult time trying to stay awake, which may have been helped by doing some scoreboard watching.
“Definitely,” he said about the challenge that awaits, “especially with what’s happening today. … The course is playing softer, playing easier, so you really have to keep an eye on what’s happening so you can manage your game a little bit more.”
Wyatt, a 23-year-old playing on a sponsor’s exemption, made the biggest move at the co-leaders Sunday. Starting his round at 6-under, he had an eagle and four birdies for a 6-under 30 on the front nine — matching the low nine of the tournament — to climb into third place.
The key to his round was a 14-foot eagle putt at the par-5 second after he started his round with a par.
After sinking the eagle, he posted another birdie at No. 4 and then had three in a row from the sixth through the eighth.
Hoffman, a PGA Tour veteran who won last week at the Texas Open, also was on the move with four birdies in a row — the last coming at the 14th hole before play was suspended — to get to 6-under for the round and 10-under for the tournament.
Stallings, Hoffman’s playing partner, also was 6-under through 14 holes. But he did most of his damage on the front nine with five birdies.
Kirk was 4-under while playing the front nine, and Day picked up three birdies in eight holes before the delay.
“It’s an unfortunate thing that we can’t get nice weather,” Day said. “But when things like this happen, you just have to try and take the opportunities that you get, capitalize on them and try to win the tournament that way — even if it may be a 54-hole event.
“We always say golf is a marathon, not a sprint. This is kind of a sprint now.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.