AVONDALE, La. (AP) — While some of the world’s top players were gearing up for the Masters several weeks ago, Nick Hardy was texting his friend, Davis Riley, to see if he’d be his playing partner in the Zurich Classic.
The late-hour entries for the New Orleans-area tournament are leaving as first-time winners on the PGA Tour — each with alligator skin championship belts, Mardi Gras-style bead necklaces and checks for $1.24 million.
“We were cracking up because this all kind of transpired kind of last minute,” Riley said. “We didn’t have a partner as of three weeks ago, so I’m really excited that it worked out the way it did.”
The 27-year-old Hardy and 26-year-old Davis birdied four of their final six holes — highlighted by Riley’s 33-foot birdie putt from the from the fringe on the par-3 17th — for a two-shot victory on Sunday.
“I was pretty nervous coming down the stretch,” Riley said. “It’s never easy to win. … Our attitude all week was pressing forward and trying to execute the best possible shot at the moment.”
They began the final round three shots back and closed with a 7-under 65 in alternate-shot play to finish with a tournament-record total of 30-under 258 at TPC Louisiana, eclipsing the 259 posted by 2022 winners Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. Hardy and Riley were two shots better than Canadians Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor.
Riley’s previous best finish was a playoff loss to Sam Burns in the 2022 Valspar Championship. Hardy’s best was a tie for fifth at the Sanderson Farms Championship last fall.
But with a chance to help one another take a maiden victory, “We both handled it very well, especially coming down the stretch,” Hardy said.
The pair didn’t make a single bogey in the final two rounds, keeping them in striking distance until they surged in front with five back-nine birdies on Sunday.
“I don’t remember either of us getting mad over a shot. That was huge for us,” Hardy said. “We handled our emotions so well. Now that I look back, I think that was the biggest key.”
Each earns a two-year exemption — and qualifies for the PGA Championship next month at Oak Hill — for winning the PGA Tour’s only team event.
Both discussed the extra satisfaction they took from winning with a teammate who they also considered among their best friends. They’ve known each other since meeting at a junior event as teenagers.
Making the victory even sweeter for Riley was that he grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a drive of less than two hours from New Orleans.
“It felt like a home-turf game,” said Riley, who played in college at Alabama. “I felt like the crowd was definitely on me and Nick’s side. … We were able to give them something to make a little noise about.”
Hadwin and Taylor shot 63, tying the course record in alternate shot that was set in Friday’s second round by Cantlay and Schauffele.
“I would say we’re in good company,” Hadwin said. “Once we got through 14, 15 and we’re still 9-under par, I actually said to my caddie, I said, ‘I want that record.’ We had some good looks actually the last three holes. The putts kind of just didn’t fall.”
The Canadians’ 10th and final birdie of the round on the 13th hole briefly gave them a one-shot lead, and they went to the clubhouse tied for first before the eventual champions birdied twice more.
“Heck of a round, 9-under, alternate shot,” Hadwin said. “That’s the most amount of birdies we made all week, and we did it alternate shot.”
Wyndham Clark and Beau Hossler, who finished each of the first three rounds atop the leaderboard and opened the final round with a one-stroke lead, made their first three bogeys of the tournament — two on their final three holes — and closed with a 1-under 71 to finish third, three shots back.
Cantlay and Schauffele made eight birdies before their second bogey of the day on 18 left them tied for fourth with Matthew NeSmith and Taylor Moore at 26-under.
“We didn’t have our best stuff throughout the course of the tournament,” Schauffele said.
Alluding to the fact that he and Cantlay each played the Masters, RBC Heritage and the Zurich in consecutive weeks, Schauffele added that their primary goal leaving New Orleans would be to “probably just try to get as many hours of sleep as possible in the next couple of days and don’t touch your clubs.”
Hardy and Riley, meanwhile, brimmed with optimism about parlaying their confidence-building triumph into future victories.
“I felt like it was a matter of time before my time was coming,” Riley said. “And to do it with one of my best friends here, who’s also an amazing player, I feel like the sky’s the limit for both of us.”
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