Four train days, find a way back to New Orleans.
The PGA Tour turns south toward the Crescent City this week for the Zurich Classic, the only official team tournament on the 2021-22 schedule. There are 80 2-man squads on site where the river meets the gulf, prepared to attack TPC Louisiana, a flat, nondescript Pete Dye design stretching more than 7,400 yards and often playing longer due to soggy turf conditions.
The format calls for fourball (bestball) on Thursday and Saturday and foursomes (alternate shot – the real kind) on Friday and Sunday. The low 33 teams advance to the weekend and something in the 20-under neighborhood is necessary to earn the 400 FedEx Cup points and million bucks awarded to each member of the winning team.
Make birdies on Thursday and Saturday. Avoid disasters on Friday and Sunday. Pick a partner like Ryan Palmer does before the tournament begins.
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It’s a good week to let the analytics rest. Team golf is just different. Complementary skill sets and chemistry matter. Average putters become more aggressive and better when their partner has nestled an approach shot close to the flag or already holed out for par. One bad swing can ruin a round in the alternate shot format. A middling player can find confidence riding the momentum of a hot partner.
Instead, we’re relying more on gut instinct while focused on current form, golfers who have a strong Tee-to-Green ranking on longer courses, good Bermuda putters and birdie makers. Handling long, treacherous water guarded par-3s is critical. Not overeating or rousing a sleepy alligator are other useful skills.
Zurich has been a team event since 2017 (no tournament in 2020) and past results reveal a blend of favorites and longshots in the top-10. Cam Smith has won twice with two different partners, including last year with Marc Leishman in a playoff. Billy Horschel won with Scott Piercy in 2018 and contended with former LSU star Sam Burns last year. After spending the week with Jordan Spieth in 2018, Ryan Palmer won with Jon Rahm in 2019 and finished 7th with him last year. Poor Mr. Palmer must settle for the No. 1 player in the world, Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, as his partner this year.
In a rare occurrence, the Zurich Classic does not coincide with JazzFest this year. Truly a shame. Still, there will be songs to fill the air down some other street one night. Hopefully the gentlemen carrying the bags and swinging the clubs breathe in some of New Orleans funky glory. Eat some greens and beans, maybe a little fish stew, mind their legs and money and still want more birdies on the card.
As always, good luck.
2022 Zurich Classic Power Rankings
20. Branden Grace / Garrick Higgo – Grace gained 5.5 shots Tee-to-Green last week at Harbour Town and Higgo won on another flat course at Congaree last year even though his recent form has been poor.
19. Joseph Bramlett / Maverick McNealy – If you’ve been hanging around here for any length of time you know we’re high on McNealy here at the headquarters and it should be helpful to have a high-octane partner like Bramlett, who is 8th in Opportunities Gained and closed with 64 at Hilton Head.
18. Greyson Sigg / Sepp Straka – These former teammates at Georgia should form a nice pairing. Straka is on an obvious heater, winning the Honda, finishing top-10 at the Players and coming within a 72nd hole bogey of joining the playoff in Hilton Head. Sigg has made 12 of 16 cuts in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
17. Keegan Bradley / Brendan Steele – Finished tied for fourth in last year’s Zurich. Bradley is top-10 in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green on courses longer than 7400 yards and Opportunities Gained. Steele is a streaky sort who has gained at least three shots Off-the-Tee in his last three starts.
16. Scott Brown / Kevin Kisner – The pride of Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, SC, has fared well in New Orleans through the years, losing in a playoff in 2017 and finishing fifth in 2019. Kisner missed the cut at Hilton Head but he’s a top-10 putter on Bermuda greens and typically plays well at the same places each year.
15. Martin Laird / Robert MacIntyre – The Scottish tandem provides a good value in fantasy formats and the betting markets. Laird has a pair of top-10s in the Zurich with different partners and MacIntyre is on the ascent, finishing 35th or better in his three U.S. starts in 2022 including a T-25 at the Masters.
14. Beau Hossler / Sahith Theegala – Intriguing combo. Theegala contended on another flat, somewhat open course at TPC Scottsdale and Hossler has three top-25s in his last five starts. We’ll overlook the 10 shots he lost Tee-to-Green last week and hope he enjoys a course presenting a more open visual outside New Orleans.
13. Adam Hadwin / Adam Svensson – Both Canadians finished T-26 last week. Svensson has struggled a bit on Sundays in his rookie season (189th in final round scoring) but is grinding toward earning a playoff spot (104th in FedEx Cup standings). Hadwin gained at least five shots Tee-to-Green each of the last three events and has finished 26th or better in five of the last six.
12. Harold Varner III / Bubba Watson – Not many will have more fun than these two. If they can make enough putts they should contend. Varner III is playing the best golf of his career, rising to 36th in the world after a T-3 at Hilton Head. Watson’s power and creativity should be rewarded around the TPC-Louisiana.
11. Patrick Cantlay / Xander Schauffele – The good friends and California natives are one of the strongest teams on paper. Cantlay is riding high after finishing runner-up at Hilton Head and Schauffele is looking for something to kickstart a lackluster season – one top-10 in nine starts and missed cuts at the Players and Masters. Still, ranks 2nd in SG: Tee-to-Green on long courses.
10. Viktor Hovland / Collin Morikawa – It’s difficult to believe these two turned pro the same week in the summer of 2019 and have risen to top-5 in the world. Should rarely be out of position. Hovland’s short game issues could be an issue in the alternate shot format.
9. Tyrrell Hatton / Danny Willett – Finished tied for eighth in last year’s Zurich Classic and both return in solid form. Hatton has four positions of 26th or better in the last five tournaments, Willett finished top-10 at the Masters and has an underrated short game (5.6 shots gained around the green at Harbour Town).
8. Shane Lowry / Ian Poulter – Lowry continues knocking on the door of victory, finishing T-3 at the Masters and Harbour Town after a runner-up at the Honda and accurately describing his form as the best of his career. Poulter loves a team format and his putter (11th in the field) makes him an attractive partner.
7. Talor Gooch / Max Homa – Frequent practice round partners are teaming up at Zurich for the second year in a row (tied-17th last year, 3-under in alternate shot). Gooch is a sharp iron player who excels on 200-225 yard par-3s. Homa is more consistent than ever with five top-20s in his last seven tournaments.
6. Tommy Fleetwood / Sergio Garcia – Last week Fleetwood continued his strong showing on American soil this spring, a T-10 at Harbour Town for a fifth consecutive top-20 result. Garcia’s ballstriking expertise (4th in SG: Tee-to-Green on courses 7,400 yards or longer) is well known but he’s also gained at least 1.8 shots on the greens in his last tournaments.
5. Marc Leishman / Cam Smith – Hard to fade the defending champions. Smith’s birdie ability alone is enough to keep the Aussies in the mix during the two fourball rounds. He leads the field in putting (shocker!) and gained 3.5 shots on approach in a missed cut at Harbour Town. Leishman has three finishes of 16th or better in seven starts in 2022.
4. Ryan Palmer / Scottie Scheffler – Eventually, Scheffler has to lose. I think. Will be interesting to see how he responds in his first start since winning the Masters but this seems like the ideal format for a return. Palmer has struggled on the greens and in general this season but gaining 4.2 shots Tee-to-Green at Valero has to be encouraging. Shouldn’t have to do much heavy lifting.
3. Joaquin Niemann / Mito Pereira – The Chilean team is strong. Niemann is 20th in Opportunities Gained and Pereira is 11th. Niemann has scuffled on the greens at times but has the most improved short game on the PGA Tour and Pereira is following suit, finishing in the top 30 in five of the last six tournaments.
2. Davis Riley / Will Zalatoris – Love the upside here. Riley has firepower. He made 21 birdies and an eagle in his runner-up finish at the Valspar. Zalatoris leads the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds and is second in SG: Approach. Duo should be able to thrive in both formats.
1. Sam Burns / Billy Horschel – Burns has won three times in the last 13 months while Horschel’s record at TPC-Louisiana is unparalleled. Burns loves Bermuda greens, is seventh in SG: Approach over the last 36 rounds and 20th in SG: Around-the-Greens. Horschel hit many good iron shots last week, although he surprisingly lost 0.8 shots on approach for the tournament. He’s also eighth in putting over the last 36 rounds. Don’t recommend backing the chalk in a team tournament but it makes sense in this case.