Noh refuses to wilt in Zurich Classic, takes first PGA Tour triumph
As Seung-Yul Noh exhaled and tilted his head back in a skyward gaze on the 18th green, fellow South Korean players Y.E. Yang and Charlie Wi charged toward him, spraying him with bottled beer.
Noh smiled, removed his hat, held both arms out and soaked it all in.
The 22-year-old overcame windy conditions and the pressure that goes with attempting to secure a maiden PGA Tour triumph, shooting a 1-under-par 71 on Sunday to win the Zurich Classic by two shots.
He also knew he achieved another goal of providing some joy to a nation that has been reeling since a passenger ship capsized April 16, leaving 300 missing or dead.
"Hopefully, they’ll be happy," said Noh, who wore black and yellow ribbons on his white golf hat to honor victims of the ferry accident.
While Noh, the leader through three rounds, never fell out of first, he did make his first three bogeys of the tournament and briefly fell into a tie with Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner who had the gallery behind him.
But Bradley did himself in with a bogey on the fifth hole and a triple bogey on the sixth.
"I actually played pretty well," Bradley said. "Just made one bad swing on 6 and had a bunch of lip-outs."
Noh remained steady enough– even with wind gusting up to 30 mph — to hold off the remaining challengers.
"Very challenging today out there, especially playing with Keegan, a major champion, and heavy wind," Noh said.
Noh needed a few clutch shots on the back nine, including a chip out of a grassy downhill lie on the edge of a bunker on 13, which hit the flag on a bounce, setting up a routine birdie putt. On 16, with wind in his face, Noh landed his approach 3 feet from the hole to set up his last birdie, then made a 14-foot par putt on 17 to assure a two-shot cushion on the final hole, uncharacteristically pumping his first afterward.
"Yeah, that was a clutch putt," Noh said, explaining that it left him "very comfortable" on 18.
Noh had made 77 previous PGA Tour starts, never finishing better than tied for fourth at the 2012 AT&T National.
He took the third-round lead in New Orleans while becoming the first to play 54 holes at TPC Louisiana without a bogey. The seventh first-time PGA Tour winner in the last 10 years in the New Orleans event, Noh finished at 19-under 269 and earned $1,224,000. He was playing for the first time with caddie Scott Sajtinac, who seemed awe struck by Noh’s combination of talent, wisdom and sense of calm for a player so young.
"He’s going to be good," Sajtinac said. "He was unflappable. You need to be unflappable to win on the PGA Tour."
Andrew Svoboda and Robert Streb tied for second. Svoboda had a 69. Streb shot 70, including an eagle on the second hole, and was one shot off the lead after a birdie on 8, but his tee shot was pushed into water by a crosswind on the par-3 ninth hole, and he made double-bogey.
Jeff Overton, who briefly pulled within a stroke of Noh on the back nine, had a 70 to finish fourth at 16 under.
Bradley wound up with a 75 to tie for eighth at 13 under.
On Saturday, Bradley worked his way into the final group, two strokes behind Noh, with a 65.
Bradley was within a stroke after the first hole Sunday, which saw Noh hit his drive into mulch right of the fairway en route to his first bogey. Bradley then birdied the par-5 second hole to tie Noh.
But just a few holes later, Bradley missed a par putt from less than 2 feet, and followed that up by hitting his drive into the water on No. 6. Then, he three-putted to complete a pivotal two-hole stretch in which he dropped four strokes.
While Bradley never recovered from his front-nine falter, Noh still had to ward off a challenge from Overton, who was one stroke back after his 20-foot birdie putt on 10.
Overton, however, bogeyed 11 when he hit his drive into a bunker left of the fairway and his second shot over the fairway and right of the cart path.
Noh, meanwhile, has the victory he needed to get into The Players Championship next month, and his first Masters next spring.
"Dreams come true," Noh said. "When I started at 7 playing golf, I dreamed of always playing (on the) PGA Tour … or playing any major, especially the Masters."
DIVOTS: Robert Garrigus, who narrowly made the cut Friday, had the best score Sunday with a 64. The round included a 374-yard drive with a tail wind on 18, which he birdied to tie for fifth at 14 under, along with two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton. Garrigus, who would have earned nothing had he been one stroke worse during the first two rounds, took home $248,200. . . . Ben Martin, who shot a course-record 62 in the first round and was 14 under through 22 holes, was 3 over on the last 50 holes. He tied for 15th with David Toms.