By Tom LaMarre
Other than the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, PGA Tour golfers don’t get many chances for team play, and one comes this week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, La.
The lead member of each two-man team comes from the PGA Tour priority rankings, and he chooses a partner who also is a member of the tour or gets into the tournament on a sponsor exemption.
The teams play better-ball (also known as four-ball) in the first and third rounds, and alternate shot (or foursomes) in the second and fourth rounds.
This is the fifth year since the Zurich made the switch from a regular tour event to the team tournament, with Jonas Blixt of Sweden and Cameron Smith of Australia winning the inaugural two-man event in 2017 in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner, with Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy winning the following year by one stroke over Jason Dufner and Pat Perez.
Jon Rahm of Spain and Ryan Palmer (pictured) claimed the title by three strokes over European Ryder Cup teammates Tommy Fleetwood of England and Sergio Garcia of Spain in 2019, but last year’s tournament was one of several cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Horschel, who recently won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and is teamed with Sam Burns this year, captured the Zurich Classic of New Orleans by one stroke on his own in 2013 when he closed with 66-64—including a 23-foot birdie putt on the last hole.
“To win here, I mean, New Orleans is a great town,” Horschel said. “I love this city. I absolutely love this city. Fans are great; the food’s great; I have some really great friends here.
“ … Like I said, I love this city and I love Zurich (one of his sponsors). It’s nice to always come back here. Once I get off the plane, once I get picked up by transportation people, the volunteers that transport us week in and week out here, I feel at home.”
Palmer teamed with Jordan Spieth in the first two years of the Zurich team event, but when Spieth changed his schedule and decided not to play in 2019, Palmer went looking for a new partner.
He found a pretty good one—Rahm, who is No. 3 in the World Golf Rankings these days.
“I shot him a text, hoping he would bite,” Palmer recalled. “When a 42-year-old player is calling him, he’s probably like, ‘Why does he want to play with me?’ But he accepted and what an awesome week.
“It was nice playing the last hole with a three-shot lead. That’s for sure.”
Among the other top teams in the field are fifth-ranked Xander Schauffele and 10th-ranked Patrick Cantlay, fourth-ranked Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff,
eighth-ranked Tyrrell Hatton and Danny Willett of England, major champions Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, and Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman of Australia.
With the 43rd Ryder Cup scheduled for September, captains Padraig Harrington of Europe and Steve Stricker of the United States will be keeping a close eye on what happens this week in New Orleans because there is at least a touch of match play involved.
- Jon Rahm, Spain-Ryan Palmer, United States – Rahm and Palmer defend the title they won in 2019 by beating Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia by three shots in the alternate-shot final. Rahm lost to Dustin Johnson in 2017 WGC-Match play final, but was 0-2 in four-ball at 2018 Ryder Cup. Rahm beat Palmer in WGC-Match Play this year.
- Xander Schauffele-Patrick Cantlay, United States – This could be a preview of a duo for the United States in the Ryder Cup in September. Cantlay had a 2-2 record in the 2019 Presidents Cup and has an 8-5-1 overall match-play record. Schauffele has a 5-2-3 match-play record and lost a group playoff to Scottie Scheffler in the WGC this year.
- Cameron Smith–Marc Leishman, Australia – Smith claimed the inaugural Zurich match play title with Jonas Blixt of Sweden, but is switching to his fellow Aussie in what could be a preview of the 2022 Presidents Cup. Leishman, who is making his debut in the event has a 9-9-4 career record in match play, while Smith has posted a mark of 4-4-1.
- Billy Horschel-Sam Burns, United States – Horschel is the only player to win the Zurich as an individual, in 2013, and with a teammate, Scott Piercy in 2018, and he also captured the 2021 WGC-Match Play. Burns is making his Zurich debut, but he has finished in the top 10 three times this season, including third in the Genesis Invitational.
- Kevin Kisner-Scott Brown, United States – Kisner and Brown have done everything but win the Zurich match play title, losing to Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt in the 2017 final, leading after 54 holes the next year before closing with a 77 to tie for 15th, and tying for fifth in 2019. Kisner lost to Bubba Watson in the 2018 WGC-Match Play final.
- Louis Oosthuizen–Charl Schwartzel, South Africa – Both are major champions, with Oosthuizen winning the 2010 Open Championship and Schwartzel claiming the 2011 Masters, and they finished third in the 2018 Zurich Classic. They also have played together in the Presidents Cup, with Oosthuizen 8-6-1 in team play, Schwartzel 4-7-1.
- Collin Morikawa-Matthew Wolff, United States – The fourth-ranked Morikawa, the PGA champion, and Wolf have not yet played for the U.S. in the Ryder or Presidents Cup, and are making their tournament debut. However, they are not that far removed from team play in college. Wolf was 1-1-1 in WGC-Dell Match Play, Morikawa 0-2-1.
- Bubba Watson-Scottie Scheffler, United States – Bubba captured the 2018 WGC-Match Play by beating Kevin Kisner in the final, 7 and 6, and has a 22-15-6 overall match-play record. Scheffler lost to Billy Horschel in the WGC-Match Play final earlier this year after beating Jon Rahm in the quarterfinals and Matt Kuchar in the semifinals.
- Tyrell Hatton–Danny Willett, England – The eighth-ranked Hatton and 2016 Masters champion are teaming up in what could be another Ryder Cup preview. Hatton posted a 1-1 team record in the 2018 Ryder Cup, but lost to Patrick Reed in singles, while Willett was 0-2 in the 2016 Ryder Cup team play, and lost to Brooks Koepka in singles.
- Tony Finau-Cameron Champ, United States – The biggest decision for these long-hitting Americans will be who will hit first, especially in alternate-shot play. Champ has yet to play in the Ryder or Presidents Cup, but Finau played in both the last few years and went 1-2-2 in team play. Both had 1-1-1 group play records in 2021 WGC-Match Play.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH: Brendon Todd-Chris Kirk, United States; Brendan Steele-Keegan Bradley, United States; Jason Kokrak-Pat Perez, United States; Justin Rose, England-Henrik Stenson, Sweden; Sungjae Im-Byeong Hun An, South Korea; Branden Grace, South Africa-Harold Varner III, United States; Alex Noren–Henrik Norlander, Sweden; Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland-Matt Wallace, England; Dylan Frittelli, South Africa-Kevin Streelman, United States; Max Homa-Talor Gooch, United States.
- Danny Lee, New Zealand-Sangmoon Bae, South Korea – Lee was 1-1 in team play at the 2015 Presidents Cup, while Bae was 2-0-1 for the Internationals in the same event.
- Xinjun Zhang–C.T. Pan, Taiwan – Zhang has claimed four pro victories on lower tours, while Pan’s four pro titles include the 2019 RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour.
- Richy Werenski-Peter Uihlein, United States – Uihlein won on the Korn Ferry Tour last week. Werenski’s last match play was four U.S. Amateurs, the last one in 2013.
- Joel Dahmen–Lanto Griffin, United States – Griffin went 0-3 in WGC-Match Play against McIlroy, Smith, Poulter. Dahmen won the Corales Puntacana title last month.
- Josh Teater, United States-Sepp Straka, Austria – Neither has any recent match play experience, but this is a team to watch because they both can make plenty of birdies.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html