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Former Golf: Ex-Cajun Smith tied for 32nd place in Zurich

Special to The Advertiser, April 25, 2015


Michael Smith, shown here competing in the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, finished his second around the PGA Zurich Open in New Orleans tied for 32nd place.(Photo: Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser)

Michael Smith continues to make the most of a rare opportunity.

The 29-year-old Lafayette native and former UL standout was a Friday pre-qualifier and a Monday qualifier for this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, and now he’s in the top 40 and playing on the weekend.

Smith, making his first-ever appearance in a true PGA Tour event, added a 4-under-par 68 Friday to his opening-round 70, and stands at six-under 138 going into the weekend’s final two rounds at TPC Louisiana.

“I didn’t hit it incredibly well,” Smith said after easily making the cut for the weekend, “but I missed in a lot of good spots. And I’ve made a lot of putts the first two days.”

Smith stands tied for 32nd in the weather-delayed tournament. None of the 78 players in the afternoon wave of the 156-player field completed Friday’s second round before play was suspended for inclement weather. The second round will continue Saturday at 8 a.m. over the 7,425-yard par-72 TPC layout.

Smith avoided the weather problems as part of the morning wave and had a hot putter to thank for a second round that included six birdies and two bogeys. In fact, his six birdie putts covered a combined 107 feet, giving him an average of nearly 18-foot makes for those six birdies.

He also played the course’s four par-fives conservatively, and the strategy worked on Friday. He hit third-shot wedges on each of the four par-fives and rolled in birdie putts on three of those – a seven-footer on the second hole, a round-longest 32-footer on the seventh and a 27-footer on the 11th.

He missed going four-for-four when a nine-foot birdie putt slid by on the 585-yard par-five 18th hole.

“On those two long putts, I actually hit good wedge shots on both,” Smith said. “They spun back down hills away from the hole, but I made both putts so it worked out.

“The course is playing long for everybody. I can reach two of them with really good drives and second shots, but I’ve wound up only going for one of them in two days. I had a chance to birdie them all … I hit a good shot into 18. But it was a good par and a good finish.”

He also had three birdies on the par-fours, hitting to 22 feet from 216 yards on the difficult 482-yard fourth hole and making that putt and wedging to four feet on the eighth and 15 feet on the 13th. Smith parred in after that birdie, with two two-putt pars and two up-and-downs.

For the day, Smith hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation and hit a solid 11 of 14 fairways, and didn’t find a bunker all day. For the tournament, he’s hit 19 of 28 fairways after getting three birdies and one bogey in his Thursday 70.

Smith qualified for the U.S. Open in 2011 at Congressional, putting him in the rare situation of playing in a major before playing in a true PGA Tour event.

His path to this week’s first-ever Tour outing wasn’t an easy, one, either. Smith had to play in a 140-player pre-qualifier last Friday at English Turn, and made it into the 40 qualifiers with a five-under 67. He then matched that 67 in Monday’s regular qualifier to lead the four qualifiers out of nearly 100 participants.

“It’s been a little nervous,” he said. “It’s a PGA Tour event and you want to play well, plus it’s close to home so you really want to take advantage of it. But it’s good nerves … it’s a fun nervous, and I’m trying to feed off it in a positive way.”

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