Talor and Max can putt their way to victory

morikawa and hovland.jpg

The PGA Tour takes in its only stroke play team event of the year this week and there’s a strong field in attendance so read Steve’s in-depth preview here…

Tournament History

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans dates all the way back to 1938 and with the exception of the 2020 edition, when it was one of the events lost to the pandemic, it’s been an annual PGA Tour stop since 1958.

The likes of Byron Nelson, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson (twice) and Seve, to name but five former champions, have all won the title so it has plenty of history but after a number of years where the strength of the fields had been waning, there was a dramatic change to the format in 2017 when the event changed from being an ordinary stroke play tournament to a team event and it did the trick.

There were just 23 of the world’s top-100 in the line-up in the 2016 edition – in 2017 there were 24 players from the top-50 and 12 months later, and for the first time since 1984, all four reigning major champions were in the line-up! Whatever we punters may think of the format, the players have certainly given it a thumbs up.

World number three, Jon Rahm, is the only player from the world’s top six that isn’t in attendance this time around so it’s a strong field again.

Format

The 72-hole stroke play tournament features four-ball (best ball) during the first and third rounds and foursomes (alternate shot) during the second and fourth rounds.

The starting field consists of 80 teams (160 players) with the low 33 teams and ties after 36 holes making the cut.

Venue

TPC Louisiana, Avondale, Louisiana

Course Details

Par 72 -7,425 yards

TPC Louisiana made its event debut in 2005 but just a year later the tournament returned to its old venue, English Turn, after Hurricane Katrina devastated this venue. The event returned in 2007 and it’s been played here ever since.

TPC Louisiana, like Hilton Head last week, is a Bermuda grass Pete Dye design. Built on 250 acres of former swamp land, the course has 71 bunkers and 20 acres of the site are covered in sand! Water is in play on eight holes and the average-sized greens usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter.

It’s an easy course for the pros and in rain-softened conditions in 2015, Justin Rose won with a 22-under-par total. Under the new format, the four winning pairs have all reached at least 20-under-par (see below).

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 19:00 on Thursday

First Four Pairs Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2017 – Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith -27 (playoff) 120.0119/1
2018 – Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy -22 65.064/1
2019 – Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer -26 19.018/1
2020 – Event Cancelled
2021 – Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith -20 13.012/1

What Will it Take to Win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans?

There have been no stats produced since the format change but we can look back to the old format for statistical clues.

What you do off the tee here is irrelevant. The fairways are generous but that doesn’t immediately hand the initiative to the big hitters. Brian Stuard, who won the final individual edition in 2016, ranked only 79th for Driving Distance and the average DD ranking for the previous ten course winners was 27.1. And the average Driving Accuracy ranking for the 11 course winners prior to the format change was 37.45.

Greens In Regulation was a fairly important stat here before the format change, with seven of the 11 winners ranking inside the top-ten for GIR but Stuard managed to get the job done in 2016 ranking only 73rd. He owed his success to a great short game and a red-hot putter.

Stuard ranked first for Scrambling, Sand Saves, Putting Average, Putts Per Green in Regulation and for Strokes Gained Putting and he made every single putt (more than 40) inside ten feet. The 2015 winner, Justin Rose, also ranked number one for Putting Average and six of the last seven winners before the format change ranked inside the top-ten for that stat.

Cameron Smith has won the title with two different partners and he’s famed for his flat-stick prowess.

Is There an Angle In?

Form at events staged at other Pete Dye courses is worth looking at but one tournament in particular looks well worth considering – the WGC Match Play.

The last six editions of the WGC Match Play have been staged at the Pete Dye designed Austin Country Club and its remarkable how many players have thrived at both events in such a short space of time.

Dustin Johnson, the 2017 winner of the Match Play, has only played here twice, missing the cut way back in 2008 and finishing only 43rd in 2015, but the man he beat in the final, Jon Rahm, won here in 2019, alongside Ryan Palmer, and the other five Match Play winners all have strong course form here.

The 2016 Match Play winner, Jason Day, finished fourth and fifth in the last two individual events here, in 2015 and ’16, the 2018 Match Play winner, Bubba Watson (who loves a Pete Dye design), won here in 2011, the 2019 Match Play champ, Kevin Kisner, (who was also second this year), was beaten in a playoff in this event, alongside Scott Brown, in 2017, last year’s WGC Match Play winner, Billy Horschel, has won here twice – once in the old format in 2013 and also alongside Scott Piercy in 2018 – and this year’s winner, Scottie Scheffler, finished eighth alongside Bubba Watson 12 months ago.

Winner’s Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2017 – Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith led by four 1.68/13
2018 – Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy tied fifth, trailing by three 16.015/1
2019 – Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer tied for the lead 2.8615/8
2020 – Event Cancelled
2021 – Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith tied second and one off the lead 4.47/2

In-Play Tactics

Stuard was the ninth winner in 11 years to be in front with a round to go in the old format and two of the four winning pairs were in front through 54 holes.

Horschel and Piercy won from three shots back and tied fifth with a round to go in 2018 but they were helped greatly by those ahead of them, last year’s winners were only one off the lead through 54 holes and I’d definitely favour the leaders if they’re a strong pairing.

Market Leaders

It’s no surprise to see the pairing of the world number two, Collin Morikawa, and the number five, Viktor Hovland, heading the market and I’m a little surprised to see them trading at a double-figure price given their undoubted class.

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Both appearing for the second time but this is the first time they’ve been paired together. Hovland finished 25th last year alongside fellow Norwegian, Kris Ventura, but the pair sat tied for fourth and just two off the lead before a disastrous 78 in round four and Morikawa missed the cut 12 months ago when paired with Matthew Wolff.

Practice buddies, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, are trading as second favourites and they debuted together last year when finishing tied for 11th. Cantlay will need to pick himself up after Sunday’s playoff defeat at the RBC Heritage and Schauffele appears out of sorts having missed the cut at Augusta last time out.

The defending champs, Leishman and Smith, are next up and they look opposable. Smith has been on the go and contending hard for a few weeks – winning the Players Championship and trading at a low of 2.35/4 in the US Masters two weeks ago, and he missed the cut last week in the RBC Heritage. I doubt he’d be here if he wasn’t defending. Leishman’s 2022 form figures read 10-36-28-15-68-MC-35-30.

Selections

I’ve had a small bet on the favourites, Morikawa and Hovland, and the English duo of Tyrrell Hatton and Danny Willett, who I backed last year when they finished eighth. They’re a bigger price than they were 12 months ago and they’re in slightly better form but the pairing I like best is Max Homa and Talor Gooch, who are both usually great putters.

The good friends are both playing nicely enough to contend and they can build on last year’s 14th.

Selections:
Morikawa/Hovland @ 10.519/2
Homa/Gooch @ 29.028/1
Willett/Hatton @ 48.047/1

I’ll be back tomorrow with the Find Me a 100 Winner column.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Author: Ellen Garcia