By Norm Elrod
(CBS Miami/CBS Local) — The Zurich Classic of New Orleans, held at TPC Louisiana since 2007, was stuck in the late-April schedule lull between the Masters and the Players. So, in 2017, the event gave itself a boost. Its updated format, now going into the third year, adopted a team setup, in which pairs play alternate shot in the first and third rounds and best ball in the second and fourth rounds. (The match styles switched rounds last year.) The team approach had not appeared in an official PGA Tour event since the early 1980s.
The revamped format has been met with mixed but generally positive reactions, and tinkering has ensued. As it stands, the highest-ranked PGA Tour players who commit to the tournament partner with another qualified player. They either alternate shots until the ball is holed or count the best score, depending on the style that round. The top 35 teams advance after the second round, and the winning team evenly splits the prize money and FedExCup points for the top two places.
Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy won the Zurich Classic last year, and Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith triumphed in 2017, the first edition of the new format. Both teams return to New Orleans this year, along many other intriguing pairs. Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott join forces in Scott’s Zurich Classic debut. Ryder Cup teammates Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia also reunite. And let’s not forget Jim Furyk and David Duval, one of the five teams in which both members sport major wins on their resumes.
The field includes many pairings in which one player is more recognizable. Brooks Koepka, the World Rankings’ number-three player, teams up with his younger brother, Chase, who plays on the European Tour. The pair placed fifth in the 2017 event. Eleventh-ranked Jon Rahm pairs up with Ryan Palmer, while fifteenth-ranked Tony Finau pairs up with Kyle Stanley. C.T. Pan, fresh off his RBC Heritage win at Harbour Town, will look to continue his momentum with Michael Kim along for the ride.
This TPC Louisiana course ranks as one of the PGA Tour’s easier tracks. Designed by Pete Dye, with some input from 1995 PGA Championship winner Steve Elkington, the player-friendly layout near New Orleans spreads out over 250+ acres of wetlands along the Mississippi River delta. The par-72 course, which now stretches over 7400 yards, opened in 2004 and can look a little intimidating from the tee. It is generally flat, with plenty of opportunities for scoring, and, unsurprisingly, gives up plenty of birdies. Weather often factors in, and looks to again, with thunderstorms in the local forecast for Thursday.
The course features an exciting and interesting combination of closing holes, as the 355-yard, par-4 16th hole leads into the 215-yard, par-3 17th and the 585-yard, par-5 final hole. The signature 18th may be one of the better holes found on the PGA Tour. Golfers need to be consistently good with all their clubs down the stretch.
As CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch once described the event, with “four par-5s and three reachable par-4s, if you get the eighth down breeze …there will be some chances for scoring when guys play their own ball.”
This year’s field doesn’t measure up to the previous two iterations of the Zurich Classic’s team format. Never mind that many of the world’s best are instead opting to play in next week’s Wells Fargo Championship as a tuneup for the PGA Championship in mid-May. But notable players dot the field and should find themselves in contention on Sunday, partner in tow. Players with Ryder Cup or other team experience tend to have an advantage at the Zurich Classic.
Here are the favorites:
Adam Scott-Jason Day
As one of the pairings with major wins between them, Scott and Day certainly top the list of favorites. The partners won the World Cup of Golf in 2013, but didn’t fair as well in the 2015 Presidents Cup. Day and Scott are ranked 14th and 28th in the world respectively. Day tied for fifth at the Masters and eighth at the Players, among his four top-10 finishes this year. Adam Scott’s best recent finishes came at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he came in second, and the Genesis Open, where he tied for seventh.
Sergio Garcia-Tommy Fleetwood
Garcia and Fleetwood also have plenty of team experience, not to mention strong individual performances in recent tournaments. These ball-strikers played together on Europe’s Ryder Cup winning team last year. Garcia is having an up-and-down season, with a T3 at the Dubai Desert Classic and a T6 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, but also a T22 at the Players and a MC at the Masters. Fleetwood contended at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players, finishing T3 and T5 respectively.
Patrick Cantlay-Patrick Reed
Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed have found success at the Zurich Classic, tying for seventh last year and fourteenth the year before. Cantlay, who sits at 18th in the World Golf Rankings, right in front of Reed at 19th, has played well of late, with top-10 finishes at the Masters and RBC Heritage. Reed has struggled in 2019, doing no better T13 at the Sony Open and Farmers Insurance Open back in January. Team Patrick also has a local connection, as Reed graduated from nearby Baton Rouge University High.