Last month, the PGA Tour served up its own version of March Madness with the WGC-Match Play. This week, the tour hosts the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at the Pete Dye-designed TPC Louisiana, and it, too, provides a twist.
For the fifth straight time, the Zurich Classic will be played as a two-person team competition. A 160-player, 80-team field will be cut to 33 teams and ties after two rounds. The best-ball format will be used Thursday and Saturday (each player plays his own ball and the best score on each hole is used as the team score), and foursomes, or alternate shot, will be used Friday and Sunday (one team member tees off on the odd-numbered holes and the other on the even-numbered holes; Player A hits a tee shot, Player B hits the second shot, Player A hits the third shot and so on until the hole is completed).
Like the Match Play, the Zurich is another difficult tournament to handicap. When I play head-to-head matchups, I prefer to play them for the entire tournament rather than just a single round. I feel my handicap is more likely to manifest over four days rather than 18 holes.
The Match Play is made up of 18-hole matchups throughout the competition. At the Zurich, if you’re playing head-to-head matchups, it’s two players against another two players — a fictional matchup created by oddsmakers with prices set for the favorite and underdog.
I equate golf matchups to a football game, but this time it’s the Patriots and Steelers teaming up to take on the Chargers and Ravens. How do you handicap that?
Golf is almost entirely an individual sport. Even though football is a team sport, we can still assign a value or power rating to each team. When two entities pair up to compete as one, that makes handicapping difficult.
I went through my normal process this week of rating each player based on statistics I believe are a fit for success at TPC Louisiana. I also looked at other courses similar to TPC Louisiana to see how players have fared at comparable courses. I then took all of that and combined each player's numbers with his playing partner to give me a team rating. It’s certainly not foolproof, but it gives me some sort of measurement to predict the success of each two-person team.
Here are the full tournament head-to-head matchups I considered and the one that I played. I risked half of the amount I usually do this week due to the greater uncertainty.
Considered (13-16 YTD)
— Leishman/Smith (+ 115) over Hovland/Morikawa
— Hadwin/Svensson (-135) over Ghim/Schwab
Played (12-14 YTD)
— Bradley/Steele (-145) over McDowell/Power
Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele teamed up in this event last year and finished fourth. Both are playing very well of late, and Bradley ranks high in the statistics I looked at this week. Steele finished 10th here in 2018, and although it was with a different partner, it still tells me he plays well at this course and in this format. As far as a correlated course, I looked at the PGA West Stadium Course, another Pete Dye design which is used for two of the four rounds at the American Express. Bradley has one top 10 and two top 25s at the American Express, and Steele has two top-six finishes and two top 25s.
On the other side, Graeme McDowell has been missing cuts about every other week and is currently ranked 363rd in the world. He hardly cracks the top 100 in the statistical categories I considered this week. Seamus Power is a very good, up-and-coming player and has two top-10 finishes at the Zurich, but this is his first time teaming up with McDowell.
I think Bradley and Steele are the stronger pairing overall, plus they have past history together that includes the fourth-place finish last year.
For all of the plays for the Zurich Classic from myself, Wes Reynolds and our special guest, Matt Brown, check out this week's edition of “LongShots” at VSiN.com/podcast