Zurich Classic of New Orleans Preview, Picks & Analysis
THERE are some formidable partnerships ready to challenge last year’s winners, Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy, at this year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The tournament represents a welcome break from the normal 72-hole individual grind for the world’s best players but don’t think for one minute that these guys don’t take it seriously.
Despite the format, there are FedEx Cup points of offer - and plenty of them.
Last year a trip to a storage unit reinvigorated Horschel’s putting. Paired with Piercy, the pair made the most of Horschel’s hot putting. It took his coach Todd Anderson, who felt his new putter was longer than the one he used during his amazing 2014 FedExCup winning run, to turn things around.
“Since I cut my putter down to 33-and-half inches to a length that it was when I won the FedExCup it’s been much better,” Horschel revealed. “For some reason I thought it was longer, and my coach kept saying, are you sure this is the right length? I said, Yeah, yeah. But I finally went back to the storage unit and grabbed a replica putter I won with at the FedExCup and realised it was a lot shorter than I thought. So I was an idiot and Todd Anderson was smart.”
And he was so confident with his putter at TPC Louisiana that he was basically declaring victory as he walked up towards the 18th green on the final day. Piercy had left him 29-feet for birdie in the alternate shot format and Horschel figured with their one-shot lead over playing partners Jason Dufner and Pat Perez it was going to take something special to beat them.
Five years earlier on the same green Horschel had a putt of a similar length to win his first PGA Tour event. “Walking up to the green I said, ‘ Hey, Scott you know in 2013 the putt I made was 23 feet I think. I think this one looks about 23 feet,'” Horschel revealed. “I said, ‘So I feel like I'm going to make it.' I felt good with the putter. I had the line; only thing I was really worried about was the speed.”
But he didn’t make it and it was left to Piercy to hole the winning putt after Horschel had run the ball a few feet past the cup.
The pair are back to defend their title but they face some pretty stiff competition. Sergio Garcia must feel like he has won the lottery as he will partner Tommy Fleetwood. You will remember that Fleetwood won all four of his matches with Francesco Molinari at the Ryder Cup last year. He adores matchplay and is in superb form. He has yet to win on American soil and although he would much rather win a solo title he will happily settle for a victory here. Fleetwood and Garcia are both terrific drivers of the ball, so most approach shots will be played from the middle of the fairway. They are also among the best iron players on the planet. It may all come down to what sort of form Garcia can find on the greens, but the pair will surely start as favourites.
Another pair to watch are Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day. Scott is showing encouraging signs of returning to his very best form. His putting woes have been well documented but he says that he has benefitted from the rule change that allows him to leave the flag in when putting and he proved that was the case with a solid performance at The Masters. Day, a former world No 1, has also recaptured the form that landed him the US PGA Championship and will still be looking back with pride at his performance at Augusta, where he finished just two shots behind Tiger Woods.
Bubba Watson and JB Holmes should provide some terrific entertainment. No pairing will hit the ball further, and there are bound to be a few eagles and an awful lot of birdies from the Americans. But there will probably be just as many bogeys, double-bogeys and worse from two men who miss just about as many fairways as they hit.
On paper, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel appear to be one of the strongest teams. As we all know, golf is not played on paper, but if they can get their act together on the greens they will surely take some beating. Oosthuizen has one of the most languid swings in world golf and it is one of the sport’s great mysteries that he has yet to add to his Open Championship victory achieved way back in 2010. Was it really almost nine years ago that the South African won The Open at St Andrews. Both he and Schwartzel have had their struggles on the putting surface but they are both wonderful ball strikers.
Horschel and Piercey are also expected to make a stout defence of their title. Horschel is one of the most underrated players on the PGA Tour, while Piercey is capable of putting together some glorious bursts of scoring. Both men are also among the best in the business with irons in their hands.
The tournament was a traditional 72-hole stroke play event until 2017. The first winners under the new format were Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt.
Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia. Expect fireworks
Billy Horschel and Scott Piercey. Been there, done that
Jason Day and Adam Scott. Both men are in great form
Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia. Ryder Cup heroes
Billy Horschel and Scott Piercey. Will be confident they make a successful defence
Jason Day and Adam Scott. Two of the best swings out there
Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt. Smith really could be the next big thing - if only he believed it himself
Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. If they putt well everybody else ought to head home
JB Holmes and Bubba Watson. Will be fun to watch
Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed. The feistiest pair in the field, for sure!
Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry. Looking for the luck of the Irish
Tony Finau and Kyle Stanley. Will be huge fun to watch this pair
Branden Grace and Justin Harding. Harding is turning out to be the revelation of 2019
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