By Tom LaMarre
The PGA Tour offers a change of pace this week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which two years ago switched to a two-man team format at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, La.
The lead member of each team comes from the PGA Tour priority rankings, and chooses a partner who also is a member of the tour or gets into the tournament on a sponsor exemption.
The teams will 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.
Jonas Blixt of Sweden and Cameron Smith of Australia captured the inaugural two-man event in 2017 in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner, with Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy winning a year ago by one stroke over Jason Dufner and Pat Perez.
Horschel also won the event on his own in 2013, making a 23-foot birdie putt on the final hole to claim his first PGA Tour victory, and last year he faced a similar a 29-footer on the same final green to claim the title with Piercy.
“Walking up to the green I said, ‘Hey, Scott you know in 2013 the putt I made was 23 feet,’” said Horschel, who has won five times on the PGA Tour and captured the 2014 FedEx Cup. “‘I think this one looks about 23 feet.
“I said, ‘So I feel like I’m going to make it.’ I felt good with the putter. I had the line; only thing I was really worried about was the speed.”
Horschel ran the putt a few feet past the hole, but after Dufner missed a 14-footer for birdie, Piercy curled in a tricky short putt for the winning par.
“Billy is obviously really comfortable here since he’s won,” said Piercy, who has who four times on the PGA Tour. “I haven’t always been a as comfortable (at TPC Louisiana) as Billy has. With this format, for me, you know, when you got that ball going you can kind of free it up.
“ … I think in the strategy, it freed me up a little bit. You know, I think that’s the biggest thing, is having him comfortable and me not having to hit some of the shots that I didn’t like.”
Added Horschel: “To win here, I mean, New Orleans is a great town. 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.”
To successfully defend their title, Horschel and Piercy will have to get past the likes of Kisner and Brown, who after losing in the playoff two years ago, held the 54-hole lead last year before closing with a 77 to tie for 15th; Blixt and Smith; Jason Day and Adam Scott; Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia; Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay; Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer; Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes; Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell; Brooks and Chase Koepka; Tony Finau and Kyle Stanley, and Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Other intriguing teams include Davis and Dru Love; Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry; Jim Furyk and David Duval; Ernie Els and Trevor Immelman; Kenny Perry and Josh Teater, C.T. Pan and Michael Kim; Luke Donald and Brendan Steele, and Ian Poulter and Sam Horsfield.
Players on the PGA Tour are used to being on their own, but once a year the top guys can ask a friend out on a date.
- Tommy Fleetwood, England-Sergio Garcia, Spain – When they last competed in team play, Fleetwood and Garcia helped Europe rout the U.S. in the 2018 Ryder Cup. Fleetwood has three top-10 results and eight in the top 25 on the PGA Tour this year, while Garcia tied for fifth in the WGC-Match Play, tied for sixth in the WGC-Mexico.
- Patrick Cantlay-Patrick Reed, United States – Cantlay and Reed have been a solid team at TPC Louisiana, finishing in a tie for seventh last year after recording a tie for 14th the year before. Cantlay is coming off a tie for ninth in the Masters and a tie for third in the RBC Heritage, while Reed has only one top-10 finish a year after winning Masters.
- Billy Horschel-Scott Piercy, United States – The defending Zurich champions won last year after Horschel missed the cut two years ago with Matt Every and changed partners. Horschel, who won the tournament in 2013 before it became a team event, has only one top-10 this year, while Piercy comes off a tie for third in the RBC Heritage.
- Kevin Kisner-Scott Brown, United States – After losing the Zurich in a playoff in 2017, Kisner-Brown took the lead to the final round a year ago before a 77 left them in a tie for 15th. Kisner won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last month, while
- Jon Rahm, Spain-Ryan Palmer, United States – Palmer finished solo fourth in this event with Jordan Spieth two years ago, but they missed the cut last year, while Rahm missed the cut with Wesley Bryan in his first appearance a year ago. Rahm is coming off a tie for ninth in the Masters, but Palmer has missed the cut in two of his last three starts.
- Bubba Watson-J.B Holmes, United States – If this were a long-drive contest, these bombers would be the favorites. Watson-Holmes tied for fifth in the Zurich two years ago and Watson tied for 28th with Matt Kuchar last year as Holmes-Brandt Snedeker missed the cut. J.B. won Genesis Open in February and Bubba comes off tie for 12th in Masters.
- Jonas Blixt, Sweden-Cameron Smith, Australia – Blixt and Smith claimed the Zurich title two years ago, but missed the cut by two strokes in their title defense. Smith, who won Australian PGA Championship the last two years, has three top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, while Blixt has recorded only two top-25 results this season.
- Henrik Stenson, Sweden-Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland – Stenson tied for 19th with Justin Rose in the Zurich last year after they missed the cut in 2018, while G-Mac tied for 22nd with Ian Poulter last year in his debut. McDowell won the Corales Puntacana Championship last month and Stenson tied for ninth in the WGC-Match Play.
- Louis Oosthuizen-Charl Schwartzel, South Africa – One of several teams of major champions in the Zurich, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel finished solo third last year after tying for 24th in 2017. Oooshuizen tied for second in the Valspar and tied for fifth in the WGC-Match Play recently, while Schwartzel missed the cut four times in last five starts.
- Brooks Koepka-Chase Koepka, United States – The Koepka brothers tied for fifth at TPC Louisiana in 2018, but missed the cut last year. Brooks is coming off a tie for second in the Masters and won the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in November. Chase plays on the Euro Tour and his best result was a tie for seventh in the 2018 South African Open.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH – Jason Day-Adam Scott, Australia; C.T. Pan, Taiwan-Michael Kim, United States; Charley Hoffman–Nick Watney, United States; Tony Finau-Kyle Stanley, United States; Martin Laird, Scotland-Nick Taylor, Canada.
- Cameron Champ-Sam Burns, United States – Champ, a rookie, won Sanderson Farms Championship early this season, and Burns comes off a solo ninth in Heritage.
- Sungjae Im-Whee Kim, South Korea – Im has three recent top-10 finishes in his rookie season, while Kim tied for 22nd in Zurich Classic with Andrew Yun last season.
- Sepp Straka, Austria-Chris Kirk, United States – Straka won on Web.com Tour last year and has two top-20s as PGA Tour rookie, and Kirk is a four-time PGA Tour winner.
- Seamus Power, Ireland-David Hearn, United States – Power posted a tie for sixth last week in RBC Heritage and Hearn finished in the top 25 in each of his last two starts.
- Davis Love-Dru Love, United States – DL3 won 1995 Zurich and was seventh in 2019 Sony against the young guys; Dru has battled injuries, but qualified for 2017 U.S. Open.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html