Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Korean pair, Kim and Kang, chanced by The Punter

Sung Kang - fancied by Steve to have a good week alongside Si Woo Kim
Sung Kang - fancied by Steve to have a good week alongside Si Woo Kim

We're off to New Orleans on the PGA Tour for the Zurich Classic and there's a stellar line-up for the reformatted team event on the PGA Tour, so read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

“I'm not going to pretend to have a firm handle on the event given the new tournament format but I wouldn't be surprised to see that the winners are really good buddies and trying to find out which teams are likely to gel nicely may well be the best way to attack it.”

Tournament History

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans dates all the way back to 1938 and it's been an annual PGA Tour stop since 1958.

The likes of Byron Nelson, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson (twice) and Seve, to name but five former champions, have all won the title so it has plenty of history but after a number of years in which the strength of the fields have been waning, there's a dramatic change to the format this year as the event goes from being an ordinary stroke play tournament to a team event, and it seems to have done the trick.

There were just 23 of the world's top-100 in the line-up 12 months ago - this year there are 24 players from the top-50! Whatever we punters may think of the format, the players have certainly given it the thumbs up.


New Format

The new 72-hole stroke play format will feature Foursomes (alternate shot) during the first and third rounds and Four-Ball (best ball) during the second and fourth rounds. The starting field will consist of 80 teams (160 players). Each of the top available players from the PGA Tour Priority Rankings who commits to the tournament will choose his partner, who in turn must have PGA Tour status unless he is chosen as a tournament sponsor exemption.

Following the conclusion of the second round, there will be a cut to the low 35 teams and ties at the 35th position. In case of a tie after 72 holes, there will be a sudden-death playoff using the Four-Ball format.


Venue

TPC Louisiana, Avondale, Louisiana


Course Details

Par 72 -7,425 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 - 71.16

The TPC Louisiana made its event debut in 2005 but just a year later the tournament returned to its old venue, English Turn, after Hurricane Katrina devastated this venue. The event returned in 2007 and it's been played here ever since.

TPC Louisiana, like Hilton Head a fortnight ago, is a Bermuda grass Pete Dye design. Built on 250 acres of former swamp land, the course has 71 bunkers and fully 20 acres of the site are covered in sand! Water is in play on eight holes and the average-sized greens usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.

It's an easy course for the pros and Brian Stuard's winning total of 15-under-par 12 months ago was the highest winning score in six years. In rain-softened conditions in 2015, Justin Rose won with a 22-under-par total.


Weather Forecast



TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2016 - Brian Stuard -15 (playoff)
2015 - Justin Rose -22
2014 - Seung-Yul Noh -19
2013 - Billy Horschel -20
2012 - Jason Dufner -19 (playoff)


What Will it Take to Win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans?

What you do off the tee here is irrelevant. The fairways are generous but that doesn't immediately hand the initiative to the big hitters. Stuard ranked only 79th for Driving Distance 12 months ago and the average DD ranking for the previous ten course winners was 27.1. And the average Driving Accuracy ranking for the 11 course winners to date is 37.45.

Greens In Regulation has been a fairly important stat here with seven of the 11 winners ranking inside the top-ten for GIR but Stuard managed to get the job done last year ranking only 73rd. He owed his success to a great short game and a red-hot putter.

Stuard ranked first for Scrambling, Sand Saves, Putting Average, Putts Per Green in Regulation and for Strokes Gained Putting and he made every single putt (more than 40) inside ten feet. The 2015 winner, Justin Rose, also ranked number one for Putting Average and six of the last seven winners have ranked inside the top-ten for that stat.


Is There an Angle In?

Form at other Pete Dye courses is worth looking at as there are numerous examples of players playing well at different Dye designs.

The aforementioned Rose has finished fourth in a Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, he was seventh on debut at Hilton Head back in 2004, in the RBC Heritage (an event he rarely plays), and he's contended numerous times at River Highlands, where they hold the Travelers Championship. He was fourth behind Jason Day at the 2015 USPGA Championship at Whistling Straits and third behind Rory McIlroy at Kiawah Island in 2012.

Bubba Watson is another to have won here and fared well at other Dye designs. He was narrowly beaten by Martin Kaymer (who himself is a multiple Pete Dye designed winner) at Whistling Straits in 2010 and he's twice won the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.

PGA Tour maidens have had a cracking record in the event so if you fancy a pair of rookies to do well don't be put off. All three playoff protagonists last year, Stuard, Byeong-Hun An and Jamie Lovemark, and the man who finished fourth, Bobby Wyatt, were all looking to win on the PGA Tour for the first time and eight of the last 12 winners of this tournament have been breaking their PGA Tour ducks in this event.

Make sure your team can handle blustery conditions as the wind is going to be an ever-present after Thursday and it's forecast to blow very hard on Sunday.


Is Chemistry the Key?

We don't have too many tournaments to compare to this one. There's the limited-field Franklin Templeton Shootout staged before Christmas each year and there's the World Cup of Golf but that's about it so form in those events might be worth considering and of course, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup form will be worthy of note.

Form in any of those events is a plus but I suspect the two winners this week will get on like a house on fire. They'll have chemistry that works.

As Dave Tindall highlights here, the South African duo of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace have a tremendous record in the Presidents Cup so they might be worth chancing, and there are a number of college pairings to consider like Chris Kirk and Brandon Todd, Andrew Loupe and John Peterson, or Hudson Swafford and Harris English.

Veteran Wisconsin neighbours, Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly have won the Franklin Templeton Shootout and are clearly comfortable with each-others company or you may want to go down the religious route and plump for the two bible reading Bens - Crane and Martin, or you could try your luck with Tony Finau & Daniel Summerhays who happen to both be Mormons.

I'm not going to pretend to have a firm handle on the event given the new tournament format but I wouldn't be surprised to see that the winners are really good buddies and trying to find out which teams are likely to gel nicely may well be the best way to attack it.


In-Play Tactics

With the new format in operation, it's perhaps not wise to put too much faith in previous tournament stats but I think I'll look to favour those up with the pace on Sunday given Stuard was the ninth winner in 11 years to be in front with a round to go in New Orleans.


Market Leaders

Jason Day and Rickie Fowler rightfully head the market and on paper they're a formidable pair. Day has finished fourth and fifth here in each of the last two editions and while Fowler's course form isn't so good (a top-ten in 2012 is the highlight), he brings rock-solid current form to the table.

Both have World Cup form in the book. Fowler was second last year when playing alongside Matt Kuchar and Day won the event alongside Adam Scott in 2013, so that's another plus and I argue with the market - they do look like the team to beat.

The one and two from Rio, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, are a funny duo to weigh up. The two men get on very well and Rose has already won the event in its old format but Stenson has missed his last three cuts and that's a sizable concern. It's also not a forgone conclusion that Rose will be over his playoff defeat to Sergio Garcia at Augusta yet and those are two big enough concerns for me to look elsewhere.

The two Texans, Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer, have both been playing reasonably well of late and they'll have their supporters but of those towards the head of the market, I'm in agreement with Dave, and Grace and Oosty look the strongest.


Selections

I'm taking it very easy here before the off. I don't want to dismiss the tournament as gimmicky and of no interest from a betting perspective but it makes sense to be cautious and see how this inaugural edition plays out.

I suspect the cream will rise to the top, as it nearly always does in the World Cup, and I've had a tiny bet on Grace and Oosthuizen. They'll handle the windy conditions brilliantly but I'm worried they won't putt well enough so I'm not convinced they're a tremendous price, and I've also had a very modest bet on the Korean pairing of Si Woo Kim and Sung Kang. I'm especially keen to follow the latter, who's been playing some great golf of late, and I thought they were reasonably priced at 95.094/1.


Selections:
Grace/Oosthuizen @ 18.017/1
Kim/Kang @ 95.094/1


I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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