After giving a new putter a trial run at the Valero Texas Open in his last PGA Tour start, Brian Stuard stuck it in his bag for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans that got underway Thursday.
It felt good in his hands, even though Stuard finished in a tie for 55th at the Texas Open, and he decided to give it another chance in New Orleans.
After Monday, it’s going wherever Stuard goes.
That would be to the Wells Fargo Championship this week and The Players Championship the week after that — two events the 33-year-old Stuard wasn’t expecting to get in — as well as the Masters next April.
That, and much more, came Stuard’s way when he won a two-hole playoff with Jamie Lovemark and Byeong-Hun An at TPC Louisiana.
Stuard confidently rolled in a 7½-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole to join Lovemark and An in a playoff that decided the tournament after it was shortened to 54 holes following 15½ hours of rain delays.
Then, after An was eliminated on the first hole of sudden death at No. 18, Lovemark missed the 18th green to the left on the second playoff hole — leaving the door open for Stuard.
Stuard stuck a 7-iron approach shot from 171 yards to set up a 2-foot birdie putt that gave him his first PGA Tour victory in 120 career starts and the $1.26 million winner’s share of the $7 million purse.
Stuard didn’t even know the name of the putter — an Odyssey Fang — when he holed putt after putt in firing a first-round 8-under 64 Thursday.
When asked if he was going to give the putter a special name now, Stuard smiled and said, “I might have to. ... I don’t know, I’m going to have to think of something. I think it’ll be in the bag for a while.”
It should after he was 46-of-46 on putts of 10 feet or less, according to PGA Tour stats, in regulation and in the two playoff holes.
“I putted pretty well with it last week,” said Stuard, who had birdie putts of 12, 22½ and 33 feet in the first round. “This week, I just felt like I was seeing the lines real well … and they were going in.
“I don’t know. I wish I knew what the difference was, but it was a real nice feeling.”
All told, Stuard played 56 holes in the tournament and was the only player in the 156-man field to not have a bogey on his card. He shot rounds of 64, 68 and 69 for a 201 total, tying Lovemark (67-66-68) and An (69-68-65).
Bobby Wyatt, a 23-year-old former Alabama star who received a sponsor’s exemption into the tournament, took a run at the title as well.
He shared the lead briefly on the back nine before dropping strokes with bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15. He had rounds of 67, 71 and 64 for a 14-under total — missing the playoff by just one stroke — and took fourth.
Lovemark surged to the lead on the back nine and took a one-shot advantage to the 18th hole, needing just a birdie to win for the first time even if An and Stuard birdied the hole, which they did.
Lovemark reached the large green in two, but was 85 feet away from an eagle to clinch the title. But his putt came up 9½ feet short, and he missed his birdie try by a couple of inches, which also would have given him the win.
“Both putts were uphill into the green,” Lovemark said after he and An received $616,000 each for their runner-up finish. “It was just crazy slow, and just bad speed. The second one I just blocked it. … That’s just golf.”
Lovemark actually had another opportunity to win on the first playoff hole.
But his 12-foot birdie attempt slid by the cup, allowing Stuard to two-putt and send both of them back to the 18th tee after An carded a bogey.
On his second shot, Lovemark knocked the ball left toward the greenside suites with his ball landing next to a cart path, leaving him with a tough pitch that bounced into the side of the green.
“I feel good, just kind of disappointed I lost there,” said Lovemark, who, like An, was seeking his first Tour win. “But Brian made a great birdie on the last playoff hole. There are no complaints, just moving on to next week.”
Shortly after Lovemark’s approach shot missed the mark, Stuard hit a laser to the green and let Fang do the rest in his 220th start as a pro, including 100 on the Web.com Tour.
“I’ve always been, I guess, a journeyman kind of player (who) just grinded it out,” Stuard said. “I was close (to winning), but just had to have the confidence to say, ‘One day, it’s going to be your time.’ Fortunately, today was that day.”
— Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.