Zurich Classic Of New Orleans
It was an undeniably disappointing week for us at Hilton Head with all of our main team playing poorly. The week was basically summed up by one of our selections Aaron Baddeley dropping five shots in the last three holes of his second round to go from being very handily placed to missing the cut.
The silver lining on the week was the performance of our trader Peter Malnati who played very solidly to finish 16th and was comfortably matched at the target price.
Moving on and the tour heads to New Orleans for the Zurich Classic.
As I’m sure all of you will be aware this event was re launched in 2017 as a team event with players competing in pairs.
Whilst I can see the attraction of ‘something different’ once a year, purely from a punting point of view it was a real shame to see the bog standard Zurich Classic go.
It had been a good friend to me over the years with a fairly proven formula of the title going to ‘first time winners waiting to happen’, [Dufner & Horschel being two that immediately spring to mind], however instead we are now left with a hard to fathom event with no great pattern to it as yet!
From a world ranking point of view the leading players competing are, Brooks Kopeka who teams up with his brother European Tour pro Chase, Jon Rahm who plays with Ryan Palmer, Jason Day who teams up with fellow Aussie Adam Scott and a European power house combo of Fleetwood and Garcia.
Other notable pairings are last year’s winners Horschel & Piercy, Oosthuizen & Schwartzel, Stenson & GMac and the Two Patrick’s, Reed and Cantlay.
TPC Louisiana which is the long standing host for the event is a par 72 measuring just over 7400 yards.
The greens are Bermuda over seeded with Poa Trivialis.
The course is a Pete Dye design so it may well pay to look at players who have performed well on other Pete Dye layouts such as TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town.
The event uses a Fourball and Foursome system on alternate days which will of course be familiar to all players who have played in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
After the first two days the top 35 teams will make the cut and play the remaining two days.
As was the case last year teams will be introduced on the first tee to the back ground of their chosen song ‘walk on music’…Unfortunately though we will not see Ben Crane teaming with Alex Cejka this year so there will be no repeat of the air guitar/head banging double act to Whitesnake…
Obviously we don’t have too much to go on here with only two years of history for the current pairs format.
The first edition was won by Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt, whilst last year’s edition was won by Billy Horschel & Scott Piercy.
I said last year in my preview that the one thing that stood out to me from 2017’s winning pairing was that they were both residents of Ponte Vedra Beach and therefore no doubt very familiar with Dye designs having I’m sure both played Sawgrass on numerous occasions. In addition I pointed out that one half of 2017’s beaten play off protagonists, Kevin Kisner, came close to winning at Sawgrass and has a great record at Harbour Town, another Dye design.
Well, lo and behold one half of last year’s winning team, Billy Horschel is also a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach. In addition Horschel also won his maiden tour title here.
This rubber stamped for me that the any connection with/to Pete Dye Courses is very much the avenue to explore here.
The other thing Horschel’s win alongside Piercy told me is that it is potentially a mistake to get too hung up here on pairings and how they will gel. Instead looking at good old fashioned individual course and current form could well be the way forward.
Basically I was kicking myself for not having backed Horschel & Piercy last year as had it been an individual event I would have been ‘all over’ Billy based on his current form and past course form coming in.
Leading on from this the other interesting fact that has struck me about the winning teams to date is that one half of the pairing has been in great form coming in while the other half has been struggling by comparison, however the form player’s great form/confidence has, for want of a phrase, seeped through to the other half of the team leading them to up their game.
With only two years history to go on here it is too early to say if this is a pattern however it is certainly an avenue I am keen to explore further.
The lead in to the tournament early week is set fare however as was the case last week we could be in for some disruptions from thunderstorms once the tournament gets underway, with Thursday and Friday the most likely days for delays.
The wind does not look to be a major issue though with nothing more than 10-15mph forecast through the week.
I have gone with four teams as follows;
PATRICK CANTLAY & PATRICK REED – 14-1 - 2pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED MC
Having outlined my thoughts above on the importance of form on a Pete Dye Track and great current form of one half of the pairing coming in I have found it impossible to ignore the obvious claims of the ‘bang in form’ Patrick Cantlay coupled with Patrick Reed.
Cantlay arrives here on the back of his ninth place finish at Augusta and a third place at the weekend at the RBC Heritage, his third consecutive top ten on finish on that Pete Dye design.
A second tour win for the younger Patrick has to come very soon and a bit like last year with Horschel if this was an individual event you would be struggling to ignore him.
This is the third year that the pair have teamed up together in this event and they have finished 14th & 7th in their previous two starts so a similar level of improvement this year would see them lift the trophy.
As for Reed obviously there was concern over his form leading in to the Masters, which saw him turn to legendry coaching guru David Leadbetter.
In the end Patrick played quite solidly at Augusta and my hunch is that with the pressure of going to Augusta to defend and all that comes with that now past, we may well see a more relaxed Reed this week.
All in all strong cases can naturally be made for all of the marquee pairings however at the prices on offer the one that I am keen to side with is ‘the two Patrick’s’ and I am happy to lead with them this week.
LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN & CHARL SCHWARTZEL – 33-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED MC
The other marquee pair who grab my attention at the prices on offer is the all South African pair of Oosthuizen & Schwartzel.
Louis & Charl teamed up in this event last year for the first time to finish third and they arrive here for another crack with both of their games in remarkably similar to shape to this time last year.
Oosty comes in on the back of a solid week at the Masters and two strong top ten finishes at The Valspar where he was second and the WGC Matchplay where he reached the last eight.
As for Char,l apart from back to back top 20s in Puerto Rico and at the Honda at the end of Feb/beginning of March, it has been very poor stuff from him of late.
As I say though last year he arrived here in a very similar run of poor form but teaming up with his old friend and countryman Louis sparked him to life and my hunch is that the same thing can happen again this year.
Both men have played well at TPC Sawgrass in recent years say they have the necessary form we are looking for on a Pete Dye track and of course they showed their liking for this venue last year.
They are undoubtedly one of the four or five class combinations in the field and with plenty of experience of playing together in the Presidents Cup as well as here last year I am keen to have them on side this week at an eye catching 33-1.
BRIAN STUARD & RUSSELL KNOX – 66-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 22nd
Allowing for the fact that I am keen on the combination of good old fashioned course/current form this week along with links to Pete Dye tracks, the other pairing that leaps of the page at me is that of Brian Stuard and Russell Knox.
The obvious starting point in this team is Stuard who won his sole PGA Tour title to date on this track in a weather shortened event in 2016.
Any victory in a shortened tournament needs to be treated with an element of caution when looking at past course form, however the fact remains that Brian produced some great stuff that week and showed great guts to close out the event in a three man play off over a far more illustrious pair of Jamie Lovemark and Ben An.
Since than Stuard has gone through some quieter patches along with one really solid stretch of golf at the back end of 2017 and early 2018, which saw him post three top ten finishes in six starts.
After another quiet run Brian seems to have found his mojo again in 2019 and has missed only two cuts this calendar year, whilst his last four starts have seen three top 20 finishes.
So we’ve established that the 36yr old Stuard has the course and current form but what of his partner? Well the first thing I like about Knox is the obvious link with Smith, Blixt and Horschel in that he is a Ponte Vedra Beach resident.
Furthermore his lone PGA tour win to come on US soil was at the Dye designed TPC River Highlands and he has produced some strong stuff at Sawgrass and more notably Hilton Head over the years.
In addition whilst he was disappointing last week at Hilton Head the Scot has been in really solid form this year, in fact the missed cut at Harbour Town was his first since October last year.
Since winning here in 2016 Stuard has played well here in both pairs events whilst Knox was seventh here last year in the company of Martin Laird. Teaming up together for the first time I can see a lot of pointers to them being a pairing to be reckoned with and I am more than happy to have them on side.
KEVIN STREELMAN & VAUGHN TAYLOR – 80-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED MC
For my final pick this week I have plumped for the team of Kevin Streelman & Vaughn Taylor.
Truth be told this pick is 80%+ about Streelman’s form coming in and as noted earlier in relation to Horschel last year I am keen not to get too wrapped up in combinations whilst ignoring obvious individual current form claims.
The slight negative over Kevin this week is that he has no course form to show of on this track and he missed the cut here in 2017, the only year he has played the pairs, On the positive front though like Knox he has a win at TPC River Highlands to his name and he has great form at Harbour Town. In addition though and most relevantly, as we know Streelman is a streak player and he arrives on the back of two consecutive sixth place finishes including at Harbour Town at the weekend.
As for Taylor whilst he is not setting the world alight he is quietly putting a solid season together with two top ten finishes already.
We are obviously rolling the dice here as to whether this pair will gel together however Streelman’s ball striking and Taylor’s putting strike me as a potentially good mix.
It is though as stated already Kevin’s current form that is the driving force here and if this was an individual event I would certainly be siding with him at 80-1 and that alone is enough for me to chance him and Vaughn this week.