Zurich Classic: Champ-Finau and Hovland-Ventura share 36-hole lead

AVONDALE, La. – Cameron Champ bombed his tee at 18, but his partner, Tony Finau, wasn’t overly impressed. He described it as “a bunt of 340.” So what if Shotlink only had it traveling 320 yards.

“I necked it,” said Champ, who ranks third in driving distance on the PGA Tour this season.

Finau joked that he expected to have a shorter iron in to the par 5 than his 3-iron and needled Champ that if he was only going to bunt one out there, “maybe on Sunday I’ll hit on 18 so I can get it a little closer in.”

Finau and Champ, who tabbed themselves Team Send It, could joke about their prodigious length after finishing with a birdie and a share of the 36-hole lead at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. They teamed for an alternate-shot score of 4-under 68 at TPC Louisiana, which tied for the low round of the day, and improved to 13-under 131, matching the total of Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura.

On another day when the wind was whipping and the format at the team event sent scores ballooning for many in the field, Finau and Champ managed to keep their composure. That’s a strength of this laidback pairing. While other players have a team of statisticians pouring over numbers to determine who should tee off on the odd holes, Champ and Finau have been flipping a coin on the first tee and letting fate dictate their strategy.

“It’s one less thing to stress about,” Champ said.

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On Thursday, for the best-ball format, it sounded like a scene out of an Abbott and Costello movie.

“I had my coin out and I said, this is heads and this is tails, and we flipped and it was funny actually, it ended up being — I picked tails and it ended up being heads, and well, what does that mean, and we still didn’t know,” Finau said. “He just agreed that I would go, and then he jumped the gun on the first hole and he went first, so then I got to No. 2, I’m like, well, I guess you want to go, he’s like no, you just go, so I just went on 2, so I just ended up going first all day.”

On Friday, with only one ball in play, Finau switched it up on the range right before they headed to the tee and called heads and odds. This time he was correct and teed off first. It’s worked for them so far and they are sticking to it.

“On 18 I happened to peek over, and wow, we were on top of the leaderboard,” Finau said. “I think we’ll do what we’ve been doing the last couple days, which is enjoy each other’s company and not add any bonus pressure when it comes to teammate golf. We’ve done a good job of that, and we’ll continue that the next couple days.”

Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Viktor Hovland celebrates with Kris Ventura after their last putt on the ninth hole during the second round of the Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, La., Friday, April 23, 2021. (Photo: Max Becherer/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate)

Hovland and Ventura, who shared the first-round lead, have enjoyed their time together, too. However, they struggled in the early going, failing to make a birdie until their ninth hole of the day at No. 18. To make matters worse, they made a double bogey at the par-4 16th when Hovland hit their second shot in the water.

“It was my fault,” Ventura said. “We tried to hit the fairway with an iron and I hit it in that bunker. I wasn’t the best teammate.”

But Ventura redeemed himself, draining an 11-foot birdie putt at 18, and the former Oklahoma State teammates who both hail from Norway were off and running.

“We just kind of trusted our games,” Hovland said. “We played really solid yesterday, and we knew, OK, one bad hole, we can birdie the rest of the holes, and we managed to birdie five from there, which was really good today.”

Finau and Champ and Hovland and Ventura will be paired together in Saturday’s third round when the format returns to best ball. Hovland and Ventura’s strategy almost makes Finau and Champ’s coin flip sound complex.

“Just keep making birdies. It’s pretty simple,” Ventura said. “You just have to out here, especially in the best ball. It’ll just be fun to play this weekend.”


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TPC Louisiana
TPC Louisiana