BROUSSARD —Smylie Kaufman was finally smiling Saturday during the third round of the $550,000 Chitimacha Louisiana Open.
Despite making his first cut on the Web.com Tour, the Birmingham, Ala., native wasn’t satisfied with his opening 71-69 rounds Thursday and Friday over the Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club layout. But a 6-foot eagle putt on the par-five seventh hole jump-started an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch, and he went on to a five-under 66 which vaulted him from a tie for 42nd to a tie for 16th at seven-under 206 entering Sunday’s final round.
“I hadn’t made anything all week,” Kaufman said, “and I just went at the pin on seven. It hit it close and made eagle, so it was like ‘all right,’ I saw the ball go in the hole, and then tried to keep doing that.”
Kaufman was five-under on the front and split birdies at the 12th and 16th with bogeys at the 13th and 17th, narrowly missing an eight-foot birdie putt on 18 after crushing a 340-yard drive and having only a flip wedge on the 441-yard finishing hole.
“I smoked it,” he said of that drive on 18. “I was hot after the bogey.”
Kaufman, who holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is playing here on a sponsor exemption, hit a short wedge into a bunker on the short par-four 17th and left himself a long par putt out of the sand.
“I never got committed to the shot,” he said. “It was kind of a bare lie and just really couldn’t figure out what kind of shot I wanted to hit. I just came out of it and chunked it ... not a good golf shot. The back side is a little tougher out here.”
Kaufman had missed cuts in Panama, Colombia and Brazil, all by either two or three shots. A top-25 finish here would qualify him for the Tour’s next stop, the El Bosque Mexico Championship in mid-April.
“Making my first Web.com Tour cut in Louisiana is like icing on the cake,” he said. “I’ve seen so many LSU hats that it makes it just so much more relaxing. It’s my first moving day of the year, and I felt a lot more comfortable that I didn’t have to make a cut and I could just go play golf.”
The 13th and 14th holes at Le Triomphe are annually among the toughest on the entire Web.com Tour.
Michael Smith can tell you first hand how difficult they are, after going from four-under-par for the tournament to two-over on those two holes Saturday.
The Lafayette product and former UL-Lafayette standout pushed his drive into the water on the “Gator’s Jaw” 13th hole for the second time in the tournament and took double-bogey. He then hit his drive on the 14th out of bounds, hit his re-teed drive into a bunker lip and had to pitch out, and then hit a wedge over the green on the way to a quadruple-bogey eight.
“You play two holes like that, it doesn’t matter what else you do,” Smith said. “You play that poorly on two holes, there’s no way to come back.”
Smith made his second cut here by two strokes and was tied for 37th entering Saturday’s third round. Now, he’s tied for 77th at two-over.
“Even throwing those two out, I didn’t hit the ball well,” he said, “but I had a lot of chances at birdie and didn’t make many of them. I just hit two awful tee balls on 13 and 14, they’re hard holes. I actually hit a lot of good shots coming in after that, but I have to drive the ball better if I want to play better.”
How difficult was it?
The 13th hole was the Web.com Tour’s toughest hole several years ago, and has been in the Tour’s toughest 100 in 22 of the Open’s 23 years. The 446-yard par-four showed why on Saturday.
Of the 81 who played it Saturday, there was one triple-bogey, 16 double-bogeys and 16 bogeys with only six birdies. The hole played at a 4.556 average — closer to a par-five than a par-four — and had nearly half of the day’s total 35 double-bogeys on the entire course. Of 129 double-bogeys by the field through three days, 51 of them have come at “Gator’s Jaw.”
The 485-yard par-four 14th wasn’t much easier, playing at a 4.506 and giving up only one birdie all day, that by Erik Barnes during a five-under 66.
Former Lamar standout Dawie van der Walt, who won last week’s Chile Classic on the Web.com Tour, admittedly had never played well in his previous three Louisiana Open appearances. In fact, his one-under 141 through two rounds made the cut on the number and was the first time he’d teed it up on the weekend here.
But for 17 holes Saturday, Le Triomphe was his playground. The South Africa native and Kingwood, Texas, resident was eight-under on the day on the 18th tee when he tried to carry the water and bunkers on the right side.
“I thought it was downwind,” he said. “It was only 286 to carry, and I never thought I wouldn’t have been able to carry that water.”
His tee shot came up a couple of yards short, caught the water, and van der Walt finished with a double-bogey six that dropped him back to six-under and left him at seven-under 206 and tied for 16th.
“Besides the tee shot on 18 and number one (a par on the course’s easiest par-five), I played really good,” said van der Walt, who won by two shots over Erik Barnes last Sunday for his first career Web.com Tour win. “I had a lot of looks and managed to make some of them. It’s a little easier when you go out early in the morning when it’s warmer and the greens are smooth.”
Back in time
For a while on Saturday’s front nine, it felt like 2012 to Casey Wittenberg.
The Memphis product set a Louisiana Open record with a 24-under 260 in 2012, winning by a whopping eight strokes, and on Saturday he birdied six of the first 10 holes he played on the way to a four-under 67 that left him at six-under 207 for the tournament.
“Golf’s a funny game, you have to build on stuff before you can really get the flow back,” he said. “On the front nine today, I did. It hit some good shots. It was like how I played in 2012.”
He had a bogey on the difficult 13th hole and had two bad breaks — a drive into the lip of a bunker and a wedge that hit the flagstick and bounced back 25 feet — on the 18th hole. “That’s just golf,” he said. “I hit a great wedge shot, it was going to be a foot maybe.”
Wittenberg won two Web.com titles that year and led the Tour money list with $433,453, the eighth-highest in tour history. But he’s admittedly struggled since then.
“My golf game’s not that good right now,” he said. “I’m not at the level I was in 2012, but hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”
Wittenberg was the only one of four former Louisiana Open champions in the field to make the cut.