By TOM LaMARRE
After some real on-course drama the last two weeks with top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain winning the Masters and eighth-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick of England claiming the RBC Heritage in a playoff, the PGA Tour plays one of fun events of the season this week.
Fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos UCLA, and fifth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, close friends, won the tournament by two strokes last year over Billy Horschel and Sam Burns, and are strong favorites to repeat in the event that starts Thursday at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, which is a suburb of New Orleans.
“When I was a freshman at Long Beach (State), my coach at the time wanted me to play with the top (amateur) player in the world to kind of compare,” recalled Schauffele, who later transferred to San Diego State. “Pat shot a swift little 65 there and I think I shot 78. So I’ve come a long way here. Pat and I joke about that now. He was way better than me and I needed to get better at golf.
“I don’t think Pat really remembers it. He has this ability or strength to go into sort of an auto pilot mode where not much fazes him, hence (the nickname) ‘Patty Ice.’ He was kind of in Patty Ice mode at UCLA when we played. I think he shot 65 and I shot 78, something of that nature. It’s kind of funny, full circle, here we are.”
Cantlay obviously does remember because he said: “I think it was a 63. … I definitely can be exactly myself with Xander, and I don’t think twice about it. He knows exactly who I am. I think that really benefits both of us. We both feel like we can be exactly ourselves and don’t have to put anything extra on.”
Schauffele and Cantlay set a tournament record of 13-under-par 59 in the best-ball format of the opening round last year in the Zurich Classic, shot Thursday 68 in foursomes on Friday to build a five-stroke lead and combined to birdie eight of the final nine holes in the best-ball format on Saturday en route to shooting the low score of the third round, a 12-under 60.
During the windy final round, Cantlay and Schauffele parred the first six holes before Cantlay hit a 254-yard approach to within eight feet and Schauffele sank the putt for an eagle in the alternate-shot.
“It jump-started the round,” said Schauffele, who won the Gold Medal in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Japan. “It was just one of those shots you kind of see on coverage and you’re like, I don’t know how that ball got there. It was a pretty thing to see live from my angle from the fairway. So I was happy to sort of clean it up for him since he hit such a great shot in there.”
Cantlay and Schauffele didn’t play great golf the rest of the way, but their 72 was enough to hold off Horschel, who won the title in 2018 with Scott Piercy, and Burns, who closed with a 68 to make it close.
“Sometimes you just can’t make it happen, and that’s what it was for us on the last six holes,” Burns said.
There has been a PGA Tour event played in New Orleans since the great “Lighthorse Harry” Cooper won the Crescent City Open over four strokes over Jug McSpadden in 1938, and the tournament became a team event in 2017, when Jonas Blixt of Sweden and Cameron Smith of Australia claimed the title.
Other winners of the New Orleans event over the years were Jack Nicklaus, Byron Nelson, Gary Player, Lloyd Mangrum, Billy Casper, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Vijay Singh, Jimmy Demaret, Seve Ballesteros, Henry Picard, George Archer, Bill Rogers, Calvin Peete, Ben Crenshaw Ian Woosnam, Davis Love III, Lee Westwood, Carlos Franco, David Toms, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, K.J. Choi, Miller Barber, Doug Sanders and Dow Finsterwald.
This week’s event will again be played at fourball in the first and third rounds, and alternate shot for the second and fourth rounds.
1. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele – Both areplayingwell, with Cantlay finishing third and Schauffele fourth last week in the RBC Heritageat Harbour Town. They teamed up for foursomes and four-ball matches for the United States in the 2019 and 2022 Presidents Cup Matches and produced a 6-3 record. They also were 3-0 for the U.S. in the 2021 Ryder Cup.
2. Collin Morikawa and Max Homa – Theseventh-ranked Homa, who is relatively new at this match game format, picked great partner this time. After tying for 21st in his debut last year, he hooked up with Morikawa, who teamed team with Dustin Johnson in the 2021 Ryder Cup to go 3-0 in doubles and help the U.S. retain the Cup. He also was 4-0 in Walker Cup doubles in 2017.
3. Sungjae Im and Keith Mitchell – After tying for 14th withByeong Hun-An in this event last year, Im has switched over to Mitchell, who picked a good teammate. Im is 5-3-1 in two appearances in the Presidents Cup, while Mitchell tied for fourth in the Zurich last year. Mitchell wasn’t planning to play until his agent got text from Im asking him to team up.
4. Sam Burns and Billy Horschel – This team tied for fourth in the Zurich two years in their first go at it, before finishing two strokes behind winners Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay last season. Horschel won this tournament with Scott Piercy in 2019 and the format just seems to suit him. In addition, Horschel was 1-2 in the 2022 Presidents Cup, splitting his double matches.
5. Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin – The Canadians again are overlooked, as Hadwin recorded a 2-2-1 record in the 2017 and 2019 Presidents Cup for the International team, splitting his doubles matches, and many believe leaving both off the 2022 team hurt their chances against the U.S. Taylor has won twice on the PGA Tour, while Hadwin has a 12 victories as a professional.
6. Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim – Tom Kim created plenty of excitement for the International team during the 2022 Presidents Cup, keeping them close with a 2-3 record that included two victories in doubles matches. Si Woo Kim upset Justin Thomas in his singles match and had a 3-1 record against the U.S. in that event. The Kims are teaming up for the first time in the Zurich Classic.
7. Sahith Theegala and Justin Suh – Both Theegala and Suh posted 1-2 records in the AGC-Dell Match Play Championship, but they shouldn’t be overlooked because they both have won early in their pro careers, including Theegala with teammate Tom Hoge in the QBE Shootout last year. Suh claimed his only professional victory in the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
8. Kurt Kitayama and Taylor Montgomery – After tying for38th withKiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand in the Zurich Classic last season, Kitayama has switched partners to Montgomery, who finished third in the Fortinet, fifth in the AmEx and ninth at Sanderson Farms. Kitayama won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was second in the CJ Cup and fifth in the WGC-Match Play.
9. Victor Perez and Thomas Detry – A seven-time winner as a pro around the world, Perez surprised by posting an early 4-1 record in the 2021 WGC-Match Play before losing to Billy Horschel and Matt Kuchar to finish fourth. Detry recorded a 2-1 record in the 2017 Paul Laurie Mach Play, losing to Marcel Siem of Germany, 3 and 2, with a chance to reach the semifinals.
10. Matt Fitzpatrick and Alex Fitzpatrick – Eighth-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick comes off his playoff victory in the RBC Heritage and will team with his brother. Matt has a 12-14 match-play record, including 0-5 in the Ryder Cup. Alex Fitzpatrick, who lost to Billy McKenzie, 3 and 2, in the final of the 2018 Spanish International Championship, makes his debut in this tournament.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH: Wyndham Clark and Beau Hossler; J.J. Spaun and Hayden Buckley; Byeong Hun An and S.H. Kim; Harris English and Tom Hoge; Thorbjorn Olesen and Nicolai Hojgaard; Scott Stallings and Trey Mullinax; Brendon Todd and Patton Kizzire; Denny McCarthy and Joel Dahmen; Denny McCarthy and Joel Dahmen; Matt Wallace and Callum Shinkwin.
1. Joseph Bramlett and Brandon Wu – These Stanford graduatesare teaming up after Wu tied for 21st in this event last year with Patrick Rodgers, another former Cardinal star.
2. Aaron Rai and David Lipsky – After opening with a 61in the Zurich Classic last year, Rai and Lipsky were in the chase most of the way before a closing 72 left them in a tie for fourth.
3. Henrik Norlander and Luke List – Norlander finished in a tie for 21st in this tournament with fellow Swede Alex Noren last year, with a 64 in round three. List won the Farmers last year.
4. Justin Lower and Dylan Wu – Last season, Lower and Wu opened with a 64 in the Zurich Classic and added a 63 in round three, but slid back with a closing 70 to wind up in a tie for 10th.
5. Chesson Hadley and Ben Martin – Hadley, a six-time winner as a professional, has taken on Martin, who has a 2-1 record in the WGC-Match Play, and they could be a team to watch.
For first-round tee times, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard