Zurich Classic of New Orleans Preview, Picks & Analysis
EVERYBODY loves innovation and the Zurich Classic is precisely that, a tournament featuring teams of two that was won 12 months ago by Jonas Blixt and the brilliant young Australian prospect Cameron Smith, who won in a playoff against Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown.
Smith hit a 58-yard approach shot within a couple feet of the pin on the fourth playoff hole, and the Australian then sank the birdie putt on the par-five 18th hole to give himself and Blixt the victory. Smith and Blixt could have won on earlier playoff holes but missed short birdie putts. For 23-year-old Smith, who played really well at The Masters, is was a first PGA Tour victory, the first of many surely.
Kisner and Brown had combined for a 12-under 60 in the final round to force the playoff when Kisner chipped in at the last before darkness stopped play. Blixt and Smith led by a stroke after two rounds and by four after three. They had fallen behind by two strokes, with Kisner and Brown recording birdies 10 of their first 11 holes Sunday. But they rallied with birdies at the 12th, 15th and 16th to regain a one-stroke lead heading into the final hole of regulation, which they wound up having to birdie to force the playoff after Kisner's clutch chip.
Both teams finished the four rounds at 27 under par at the par-72 TPC Louisiana in suburban New Orleans. Blixt and Cameron each picked up more than $1m and 400 FedEx Cup points, which means it was worth almost as much as a normal 72-hole individual stroke play tournament. It is little surprise, therefore, that this year’s event has attracted a world-class field, with five of the top 10 and 10 of the top 20 in the world rankings in the field.
It captured the public’s imagination because everybody enjoys watching low scores, and when the players get to the better-ball piece of the action, there are going to be birdies galore. It is the first team event to be played on the pGA Tour since the Walt Disney World National Team Championship in 1981.
The field consists of 80 two-player teams, with the highest ranking player in each group being able to chose his partner, and that means chemistry is a huge part of the event. Last year, many of the field opted to play with close friends and of course that meant there were plenty of laughs - something that even the players would admit is in short supply during tournament play.
The players on each team alternated shots in the first and third rounds. In the second and final rounds, each player hit his own balls and each team took the best score per hole. The playoff was held in the same format as the final round. Kelly Kraft and Kevin Tway finished third at 23 under Sunday. Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer were fourth. Six teams tied for fifth, including the pairs of Jason Duffner-Patton Kizzire and Bubba Watson-J.B. Holmes.
There were some surprises last year, with the teams of Jason Day and Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson missing the cut.
Rose and Stenson are back again, determined to set the record straight. And it would be a serious surprise to everybody if this pair, the highest ranked in the field, don’t do rather better this time. Rose has been in splendid form for months, having finally discovered his touch on the greens, and he will be hugely optimistic about his prospects with Stenson also showing signs of his very best form in recent weeks.
The favourites may well be the Spanish pairing of Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, the latter of whom has been one of the most consistent players on the planet for the past three or four years. He would be the first to admit that he does not win as often as he should do and he is still looking for his first success on American soil. He would rather it came in an individual event but you won’t hear him complaining if he and Garcia happen to walk off with the spoils on Sunday. Garcia suffered horribly during the defence of his title at The Masters when he dumped five successive balls in the water on his way to a mind-boggling 13. Not so long ago, this may have preyed on Garcia’s mind for weeks, but he is a different player these days.
There will also be a huge amount of attention on Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan. Rahm seems to get better with every passing week. He finished fourth at Augusta and then boarded a plane, flew across the Atlantic Ocean and promptly won the Open De Espana. As a proud Spaniard, it meant a huge amount to Rahm, and he did it in style. It is easy to underestimate Bryan but he is a terrific golfer. He initially made his name as a result of his trick-shot repertoire but has gone on to prove himself on the PGA Tour, winning the 2017 RBC Heritage at Harbour Town on one of the trickiest course in the United States.
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Looking to make up for last year
Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello. If they click, they could win by a mile
Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan. Get ready for LOTS of birdies
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Two of the best in the business
Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello. You will see these two again at the Ryder Cup
Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan. Remember, Jon, this is meant to be fun
Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar. An odd couple
Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer. Spieth is back to his brilliant best
Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley. Don’t underestimate Cauley
Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay. The Masters champion loves team events
Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly. Looking to strike a blow for the golden oldies
Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. Two of the sweetest swingers in the game
Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Paisley. If Paisley is on song these two will have a great week
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