Billy Horschel scores 1st tour win at Zurich Classic

AVONDALE — After three consecutive top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, Billy Horschel had a feeling when he walked onto the TPC Louisiana grounds Wednesday for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Then, after introducing himself to Zurich Insurance Group CEO Martin Senn, Horschel told him he would be taking home a rather sizable annuity from the tournament.

Well, he didn’t exactly say it like that.

“He said he would see me on the 18th green on Sunday,” Senn said. “I saw him a couple of more times during the week, and I said, ‘I’m going to hold you to that.’ ”

Sure enough, Horschel held up his end of the deal. The two met in the tunnel behind the 18th green and shared a back-slapping hug under darkened skies after the 26-year-old drained a 27-foot birdie putt for his first PGA Tour victory.

“I think it was more of a stupid comment than anything,” a smiling Horschel said of his chat with Senn the day before the tournament. “It was just me trying to impress Martin a little bit. But I felt confident in the way I’ve been playing, and I like this golf course. I’ve always played well on Pete Dye courses.”

Horschel knows it easily could have turned out differently, especially after two weather delays Sunday. The first held up play for 3 hours, 10 minutes, and the second lasted 52 minutes after Horschel struck his crucial tee shot at No. 18.

With playing partner D.A. Points lining up a birdie try of just under 5 feet on the par-5 finishing hole after they returned, Horschel, who was hanging on to a one-shot lead, slammed the door with his monster putt.

Horschel finished the tournament in style with nine birdies and just one bogey on his card.

His 8-under 64 on Sunday equaled the course record, and his total of 20-under 268 eclipsed the 72-hole tournament record of 269 at TPC Louisiana set by 2012 champion Jason Dufner.

More importantly, Horschel picked up the winner’s share of $1.188 million from the $6.6 million purse. His previous three starts included a tie for second, a tie for third and a tie for ninth.

Points, who outlasted Horschel to win by one at the Shell Houston Open last month, had a closing 65 to finish at 19-under. He picked up $712,800 for second place but certainly wasn’t disappointed in losing to the popular Horschel.

“When you shoot 19-under and have seven birdies and no bogeys in the final round of a tournament, I’ll take that for the rest of my life and come out on top more often than not,” Points said. “I was proud of myself. But Billy made nine birdies and just one bogey. That was some awesome golf, and to do that on a Sunday to win a golf tournament is something else. I won by one (shot) at Shell and he won by one here, so that’s all right.”

Horschel surged into the lead with a stretch of six consecutive birdies from the seventh through 12th holes, which tied the longest birdie streak on the PGA Tour this season. He had another one at No. 5 for seven birdies in eight holes.

Points started the back nine by making four birdies in a row to keep the pressure on

When Horschel finally stumbled slightly with a bogey at No. 15, Points found himself in a tie at the top of the leader board until Horschel quickly regained the slim margin with a birdie on the next hole.

Horschel, who leads the PGA Tour with 220 birdies this season, finished with 26 in the tournament. In shooting a 32 on the back nine in the second round Friday, a 66 on Saturday and a 64 on Sunday, Horschel had 19 birdies and was 18-under for those 45 holes.

“Billy played great — that was amazing,” Points said. “To hole that putt (on No. 18) after the delay and knowing that I had a really good look at birdie ... if he wanted to end it now, it had to go in. That thing was pure. My hat’s really off to him.”

Kyle Stanley finished third, three strokes behind Horschel. Second- and third-round leader Lucas Glover couldn’t get anything going and shot 71 to tie for fourth with Bobby Gates at 15-under.

“I didn’t do myself any favors early when we were playing,” said Glover, who struggled after taking a two-shot lead into Sunday’s play. “I just didn’t hit it close enough to make any birdies. (Horschel and Points) got off like wildfire early, and I wasn’t hitting it close enough to catch up.”

The day belonged to Horschel, who, as he predicted four days earlier, met Senn on the 18th green.

“I just tried to impress him,” Horschel said of their encounter Wednesday. “It was somewhat of a dumb comment.

“But obviously I lived up to it, so it’s not a dumb comment now.”