Before we get into which mere mortals could end up claiming the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, let’s first pay homage to the world heavyweight champion and still undefeated winner: Mother Nature.
She reminded us silly humans once again who’s in charge, with enough relentless rain to suggest she wanted to see someone named Noah take the trophy. It’s been like Groundhog Day with lightning this week around TPC Louisiana, where every hole now has a water hazard, whether Pete Dye designed it that way or not.
The PGA Tour finally threw in the proverbial golf towel sometime Sunday afternoon (no doubt it landed in a puddle) and wishfully decided this will be a 54-hole event instead of the regular 72. A concession to the elements was the only prudent thing to do considering the four-plus inches of rain dumped on Avondale since Wednesday and the prospect for more rain Monday afternoon and Tuesday as well.
There will, hopefully, be a break in the clouds Monday morning, enough time for the golfers to complete the third and now final round, wring out their slacks and head home or on to the next tour stop in Charlotte, North Carolina.
For all the frustrations the weather has put them through here this week, let’s hope they can get the rest of the third round in. It won’t be an official tournament unless they do, meaning the guy who winds up in first place won’t get to enjoy all the perks of a PGA Tour victory if they have to just throw up their hands and walk away.
That would be a shame for everyone involved, especially the four players at the top of the leaderboard. Four guys for whom a victory would be a career-altering event.
In the post-Tiger Woods era, we’ve become underwhelmed by what a big deal a PGA Tour victory is for most of these guys. It gives a player exempt status for the rest of this season and the next two seasons. It gives them automatic entry into this season’s The Players and the PGA Championship, as well as next year’s Masters and Tournament of Champions.
And let’s not forget the $1.26 million first-place check, a life-changer in itself for most folks, including pro golfers.
Brian Stuard and Jhonattan Vegas are tied for first at 13-under-par early in their third rounds, with Bobby Wyatt a stroke back and Jamie Lovemark one more behind him. Among them, only Vegas has a PGA Tour win, but that was five years ago in the then-Bob Hope Classic out in California.
Since then, Vegas has endured injuries and is only on the tour this year conditionally thanks to his past champion status. A win would put his career back on the track it once was.
Stuard is the definition of a journeyman pro. Now 33, he has played on the Hooters Tour and the Web.com Tour and had to fight his way through the old PGA Tour qualifying school. He has had one top-25 finish in six starts and earned barely 70 grand. So far he has held up remarkably to all the pressure and restarts, either in or around the lead since Thursday’s first round.
Wyatt was helping Alabama win an NCAA golf title two years ago. Four years before that, he shot a 57 in the Alabama boys state junior championship — 15-under. Making a living on the PGA Tour is another matter, and with just one previous PGA Tour start to his credit, it’s probably off to the PGA Tour’s Mackenzie Tour in Canada unless he can earn status here.
Lovemark has spent most of his pro career on the Web.com Tour, earning his PGA Tour card for this season by finishing seventh on the lower tour’s priority points list. The 28-year-old has made the most of his chances on the big tour, ranking 34th in FedEx Cup points, but a PGA Tour victory would cement his status for the foreseeable future.
Of course, someone else could come charging out of the pack. There’s a group of five PGA Tour veterans, winners all, lurking at 10-under, a group that includes world No. 1 Jason Day. All of them have just enough time left to scramble to the top of the leaderboard and post a score for the others to aim at.
A win by Day would be great for the Zurich, but you have to have at least some rooting interest for the foursome at the top.
For a Jason Day, this would be just another win. For Stuard, Vegas, Wyatt or Lovemark, this could be everything.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.