Jeff Duncan: Sam Burns, Billy Horschel making a run to the delight of the home crowd |  Jeff Duncan

Jeff Duncan: Sam Burns, Billy Horschel making a run to the delight of the home crowd | Jeff Duncan

When Sam Burns and Billy Horschel walked on the first tee box for the third round of the Zurich Classic on Saturday, the thick crowd burst into a round of spirited applause.

A split-second later, tournament officials cued up the team’s walk-up music, and as Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge” blasted over the loudspeakers, the crowd immediately went from raucous to rowdy.

As a chorus of “Geaux Tigers!” erupted from the gallery, Burns raised his left hand above his head and encouraged the crowd to take it up another level.

“I knew all the locals would love it,” said Burns, a former LSU All-American and Shreveport native.

Horschel, though, was another matter. The former Florida All-American is so true to his school that he brandishes an orange and blue gator mascot on his golf bag. But Horschel knows a good thing when he sees it and embraced Burns’ music selection when he texted it to him last week.

“He picked a great song,” Horschel said. “I hadn’t heard it before. Obviously, I’m a Garth Brooks fan, but I haven’t heard that one. I played it, and I’m like, ‘Oh, this will be perfect.’”

It was the first of many smart moves by Horschel and Burns this week.

The duo started the day three strokes behind leaders Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, who entered the round at 17-under. But it didn’t take Burns and Horschel long to ascend to the top of the leaderboard. They birdied five of the first seven holes on the front nine to surge to 19-under and take a brief lead before the Californian tandem of Cantlay and Schaufelle kicked it into gear midway through their round.

A bogey on No. 9 temporarily stalled Burns and Horschel’s momentum but they immediately recovered with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 to kick-start a bogey-free, 5-under-par back nine. They finished the day at 9-under-par 63 to drop their three-day score to 23-under.

“We did a really good job today,” Horschel said. “We messed up on No. 9, and that was it, and other than that we played a really clean round of golf.”

As expected, the power couple ranked among the main draws for Saturday’s round of best-ball play.

Horschel is the 14th-ranked player in the world, a two-time Zurich champion who has befriended so many locals during his annual visits to town that he now considers New Orleans a second home.

Burns, meanwhile, is the home-state hero, an unabashed LSU Tigers football fan and the world’s 11th-ranked player.

Burns and Horschel were cheered and lauded throughout their five-hour round by the large gallery that followed them on the windy, hot and humid afternoon.

The elder, more animated Horschel spent much of the round chatting, coaching and encouraging his younger teammate.

When Horschel put his approach shot to within 2 feet on the 438-yard No. 5 hole, Burns promptly chipped to within 3 feet for a tap-in birdie.

“You make the birdie, and now it looks you made three birdies (on the first four holes) and I made just one,” Horschel jokingly chided his teammate.

Later, after Burns carded yet another birdie for the team, Horschel playedfully tapped in his birdie putt between his legs.

And that’s how it went for the rest of the day, with Horschel rolling in putts from all over the place and Burns blasting drive after drive well ahead of the rest of the foursome.

“I feel like we’ve played pretty good,” Burns said. “I made a couple mistakes here and there, but that’s kind of what you get in these formats. It’s a different style of golf. But yeah, I think we played really well, and I think we’re going to play really well tomorrow.”

They’ll need to play well to have any hope of catching the red-hot Cantlay and Schauffele. A six-stroke lead seems almost insurmountable at this point and the California tandem isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. But Horschel and Burns aren’t conceding anything. They believe anything is possible during alternate shot play.

“Just got to play a really good round of golf,” Horschel said. “We haven’t played a clean round yet this week, and I think if we do that tomorrow, we give ourselves a chance. It’s a format that you can make up a lot of shots on. We’ve just got to go out and hopefully play the best 18 holes round of golf that we have all week, and hopefully from there that gives us a chance.”

Win or lose, one thing is certain: Burns and Horschel will have the home-course advantage on their side.

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