For the third time in five weeks, the PGA Tour players will tackle a Pete Dye design golf course. It began with the WGC Match Play at Austin Country Club, followed up last week at Harbour Town for the RBC Heritage, and now here we are at TPC Louisiana for the Zurich Classic.
For the third year in a row, the Zurich Classic will feature a two-person team format. The event was struggling to attract star power for quite some time and it was in 2017 when this format was introduced. The players have bought in and the tournament fields have become much more attractive. The field is made up of 160 players paired together to form 80 teams. The players get to choose their playing partner which adds another cool twist to the Zurich’s new format. It is a 72-hole stroke play event but on day one (Thursday) and day three (Saturday) the teams will play four ball (best ball of the two) and on day two (Friday) and day four (Sunday) teams will play foursomes (alternate shot). There is a 36- hole cut at which the field will be trimmed to the top 35 teams and ties and these teams will advance to play the weekend.
The Zurich Classic may be the single most difficult handicap on the entire Tour schedule. Not because of the golf course or the field, or the skill sets, horses for courses, etc. but because of the twoperson team format. It is difficult enough to try to pinpoint one player’s expected performance over the course of four days but when you pair players together, who half the time will be alternating shots, it becomes extremely haphazard in trying to isolate a predictable edge. You are really dealing with a two-headed monster. You can handicap each partner on a particular team but I don’t know if you can reasonably predict how their individual skills will perform as a duo.
With that said, we are going to look at a few things that make sense this week and provide at the very least, some entertainment value. While it may not be an advantageous tournament from a betting perspective, it is a very entertaining watch. We rarely get to see team events in golf and I feel seeing the camaraderie and partnered effort is one that is quite enjoyable.
I mentioned the course designer, Pete Dye. It is my feeling that this is the strongest angle one can use this week: How each player on a team has performed on Dye courses in the past. No matter what else, if you have a comfort and success level from each player on the team on such golf courses, that is a plus. In years prior to the new team format, the Zurich Classic was a bit of a birdie fest and that often translates into who is carrying a hot putter. The greens are Bermuda grass this week, just like Dye’s Harbour Town course last week in Hilton Head.. so it will help to have a player who specializes on this type of putting surface.
A FEW STABS TO WIN IT ALL
Graeme McDowell & Henrik Stenson (20/1)
Graeme McDowell has been playing inspired golf this season. He is doing everything in his power to qualify for The Open Championship at Royal Portrush in July, in his home country of Northern Ireland. He already has a win this season, getting it done less than a month ago at Puntacana. He’s won at Pete Dye’s Harbour Town before and only missed the cut there twice in ten tries. He also finished 9th at Dye’s TPC Sawgrass three seasons ago. Speaking of Sawgrass, Henrik Stenson has won The Players Championship here and finished Top 10 on three other occasions. Finally, both McDowell and Stenson played the Zurich last season, teaming up with different partners, and both finished Top 25.
Russell Knox & Brian Stuard (50/1)
Brian Stuard won the Zurich Classic in 2016, the last year it was played here traditionally before going to the team format. He also comes in off of a 16th place finish last week at Hilton Head, a Dye course where he also finished 5th in 2014. In six trips to Hilton Head, Russell Knox has only twice finished worse than Top 20. Similar at The Players Championship, where in six visits, only twice has Knox been worse than Top 35. Knox’s best finish this season was in Phoenix, where they also feature Bermuda grass greens.
Both of these teams feature strong current form and strong course designer form.
I will go with two more teams as Honorable Mentions; Charley Hoffman & Nick Watney (40/1) and Matt Jones & J.J. Spaun (60/1)