Zurich Classic 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Ryan Palmer and Jon Rahm won the Zurich Classic together in 2019 and are among the favorites this week. Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

I could write a book about adventures in New Orleans and just might someday. But you didn’t come here to read about nights that turned into mornings or long afternoons at Johnny White’s (RIP) or Halloweens fraught with Widespread Panic.

We’ve all gathered to discuss golf, specifically the mystery of filling a fantasy roster in a two-man team event. For the second time in five weeks, the PGA Tour has opted for an alternate format. The Zurich Classic is an 80-team, 72-hole tournament at the TPC Louisiana, yet another Pete Dye course.

The first and third rounds are best-ball (fourball) while the second and fourth rounds are alternate-shot (foursomes). The field will be cut to the low 33 teams and ties after two rounds.

RELATED: TPC Louisiana course preview | The Caddie Line homepage

Since the last time this event was held in 2019, the TPC Louisiana has been blessed with new, slippery Bermuda greens and Celebration Bermuda fairways which ideally would make the par-72 course play shorter than its 7,425 yards. In my visits to one of the Tour’s flattest layouts, however, the course was on the soft side. There’s rain in the forecast on Friday and Saturday, minimal wind expected and temperatures in the 70s.

In an ordinary year, Jazzfest is going down at the Fairgrounds during tournament week and there’s live music stirring in dozens of venues around town, day and night, so great tunes can rinse away a bad round. There’s been nothing ordinary lately though and the festival was moved to the fall. Hotel rooms in the city will be easier to secure but the energy will suffer. Carlos Santana at sunset comes to mind.

Back to the matter at hand. It’s a wild, unpredictable week. This format demands a strong start. Teams can’t afford to fall too far behind. Partner golf over four days depends on building momentum early and maintaining it (avoiding bogeys in best-ball or disasters in alternate shot). After 36 holes, the contenders will be clear.

I factored in the SG: Total and SG: Approach stats, tried to favor potential good chemistry and relied on recent form. Course history was also given consideration. And players who have thrived on Dye courses. Never be afraid to take chances with your roster and this week provides an ideal opportunity to ride a longshot home.

The Bargain Bin

Ryan Blaum / Grayson Murray, Peter Malnati / Chris Baker, Kramer Hickok / Robby Shelton, Austin Cook / Andrew Landry, Seamus Power / David Hearn

As always, good luck. Laissez les bon temp rouler.

Golfer power rankings

25. Jason Kokrak / Pat Perez – Excellent value in most fantasy formats this week. On paper, this feels like a nice blend. Kokrak had three top 10s in a row before a T-49 at the Masters. Perez needs a good week. He’s 130th in the FedEx Cup standings. Should seize the moment with a strong partner by his side.

24. Alex Noren / Henrik Norlander – Noren is trending upward after gaining 3.3 strokes on approach on the tiny greens at Harbour Town to tie for 25th last week. After a sizzling start to 2021, Norlander has cooled, missing four cuts in a row. The Swedes should be formidable in this format.

23. Sungjae Im / Byeong Hun An – The putting of Im combined with the iron play of An could be a lethal combination in the two rounds of alternate shot. Im rebounded from a disappointing Masters with his fourth top 25 in five starts at the Heritage. An leads the field in SG: Around-the-Green. He’s had a lot of practice in that department of late, missing four cuts in a row.

22. Will Gordon / Michael Thompson – I keep waiting for the uber talented Gordon to break out. Solid mixture of power and putting with this tandem and Thompson has a top 15 in 2017 here with Tim Wilkinson. He’s capitalizing on the opportunity presented by his win last summer and has made four consecutive cuts.

21. Justin Rose / Henrik Stenson – I was premature earlier this year in projecting a Rose resurgence but those thoughts came to fruition in Augusta where he putted like a young man until Sunday, ultimately finishing tied for seventh. Stenson’s iron game remains elite (12th in SG: Approach) and a reunion with his old Ryder Cup teammate could help him build on a T-38 at Augusta.

20. Lanto Griffin / Joel Dahmen – A likable tandem. Dahmen has had a strange year, struggling most weeks yet winning in the Dominican. Griffin missed the cut at the Masters and is 10th in the field in SG: Approach, snapping a streak of six consecutive cuts made.

19. Matthew NeSmith / Chase Seiffert – Sneaky good ballstriking pairing. NeSmith is third in the field in SG: Approach and Seiffert, who rewarded our bargain bin faith with a T-42 at Harbour Town, which was his fifth consecutive cut made. NeSmith has played three weekends in a row also.

18. Viktor Hovland / Kristoffer Ventura – Could the former Oklahoma State teammates capture magic around the TPC Louisiana this week? Absolutely. Besides his impeccable ballstriking, Hovland’s cheery attitude makes him a desirable partner. Ventura has struggled of late, missing three of the last four cuts but is third in the field in putting.

17. Tyrrell Hatton / Danny Willett – Hatton is strong everywhere except around the green, yet still hasn’t enjoyed the same success stateside that he’s had in Europe. He’s made five of the last six cuts. Willett is solid off-the-tee, as well as on and around the greens.

16. Sam Burns / Billy Horschel – Burns, a Louisiana native, is a popular pick in fantasyland and will have strong support on the course this week. Horschel is on a tear, contending at the WGC-Workday (second), winning the WGC-Match Play and finishing T-25 last week. Also won here with Scott Piercy in 2018.

15. Branden Grace / Harold Varner III – Grace has been steady, making six of the last seven cuts with a win in Puerto Rico. Varner III has his red beans cookin’, arriving after his best career finish, T-2 at Harbour Town. He closed with 66, overcoming an out-of-bounds tee shot on No. 1 and a water ball on No. 10.

14. Doug Ghim / Justin Suh – Ghim is eighth in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green while Suh just needs more opportunities on the Tour. He’s finished in the top 40 in each of his three starts in 2021. Solid value here.

13. Scottie Scheffler / Bubba Watson – Scheffler is 21st in birdies and he’ll hope Watson can start making some (187th). Tons of power and Watson has a strong track record at TPC Louisiana, finishing in the top 20 in 2012 and 2013.

12. Wyndham Clark / Erik Van Rooyen – In this space we’ve admired Van Rooyen for ranking near the Tour average in every aspect of golf. Clark is a bomber and birdie machine (13th in BOB Gained). Have high hopes for this duo.

11. Tony Finau / Cameron Champ – Theoretically should capitalize on the par 5s. Champ played well early in the week at Augusta, tying for 26th and Finau, who is sixth in the field in Birdies or Better Gained, posted yet another top 10 at the Masters.

10. Scott Piercy / Akshay Bhatia – Piercy won the event with Billy Horschel in 2018 and Bhatia is a freewheelin’ birdie machine. This format creates interesting partnerships and this one surely qualifies. Still, love the firepower and intrigue.

9. Collin Morikawa / Matthew Wolff – Although the former Oklahoma State star Wolff has been struggling off the tee of late, if he can find the golf course in the alternate shot, the team format might be just what he needs to regain confidence. He’s fourth in SG: Approach and Morikawa is first.

8. Keegan Bradley / Brendan Steele – Steele is 97th in the field in SG: Putting and Bradley is 152nd. That’s sub-optimal. But they will have chances. Bradley is second in the field in SG: Approach and Steele is 23rd in SG: Off-the-Tee.

7. Kevin Kisner / Scott Brown – Consistent contenders in the Zurich. They’ve surely teamed up a time or two in money games at their home course, Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, SC. Finished runner-up in 2017.

6. Xander Schauffele / Patrick Cantlay – The highest-ranked tandem in the field. This week should be a good opportunity for Schauffele to build off his runner-up at the Masters and wash away any disappointment. Cantlay has missed back-to-back cuts but don’t fret.

5. Louis Oosthuizen / Charl Schwartzel – The Big Chiefs of syrupy rhythm. I could follow this twosome until Mardi Gras comes around again. They finished tied for third in 2018 and each tied for 26th in the Masters.

4. Jon Rahm / Ryan Palmer – A repeat victory from the defending champions wouldn’t surprise anyone. Both men are in the groove like a George Porter Jr. bass line. Palmer has a pair of top 20s and a deep run in the WGC-Match Play in his last four tournaments while Rahm has consecutive top 10s. Will be a popular selection, obviously.

3. Cam Smith / Marc Leishman – Strong pair of Aussies. Smith finished top 10 at Augusta and Hilton Head while Leishman contended until a sloppy Sunday at the Masters, finishing tied for fifth. Smith, a short game wizard, won this event with Jonas Blixt in 2017.

2. Max Homa / Talor Gooch – Feels like a good mix of personalities here and both are enjoying outstanding seasons. Homa is 21st in the FedEx Cup standings and Gooch is 51st. No glaring weakness in either player’s game. Homa is fourth in the field in Birdies or Better Gained.

1. Chris Kirk / Brendon Todd – Love this pairing of Georgia Bulldogs. Kirk enters off back-to-back top 10s, rolling along in his stellar comeback season. Todd leads the field in SG: Putting and SG: Short Game. Kirk is top 25 in the field in every SG category except putting (52nd).

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