The PGA Tour stops off in Louisiana this week for a change from the norm at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Read our man's detailed take on this week's pairs event here...
"Course form looks well worth considering here. Horschel won the individual event in 2013, Jason Dufner, who finished second playing alongside Pat Perez, won the tournament in the old format back in 2012 and the two defeated playoff protagonists from 2017, Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown, led through three rounds last year."
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 where the strength of the fields had been waning, there's was a
dramatic change to the format two years ago and the tournament changed from being an ordinary stroke play tournament to a team event and it did the trick.
There were just 23 of the world's top-100 in the line-up in the 2016 edition - in 2017 there were 24 players from the top-50 and last year, for the first time since 1984, all four reigning major champions were in the line-up! Whatever we punters may think of the format, the players have certainly given it a thumbs up.
In a change to the original format in 2017, the 72-hole stroke play tournament now features four-ball (best ball) during the first and third rounds and foursomes (alternate shot) during the second and fourth rounds. The four-ball format was in play during rounds two and four back in 2017.
The starting field consists of 80 teams (160 players). Each of the top available players from the PGA Tour Priority Rankings that have committed to the tournament has chosen a partner, who in turn must have PGA Tour status, unless they're a sponsor's exemption. The low 35 teams and ties after 36 holes will make the cut.
TPC Louisiana, Avondale, Louisiana
Par 72 -7,425 yards
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 last week, is a Bermuda grass Pete Dye design. Built on 250 acres of former swamp land, the course has 71 bunkers and 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 three years ago was the highest winning score in six years. In rain-softened conditions in 2015, Justin Rose won with a 22-under-par total. Under the new format, two teams reached 27-under-par in 2017 - the winners, Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt, and the beaten playoff protagonists, Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown. Last year's winners, Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy, won with a total of 22-under-par.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting with Featured Group coverage at 13:30 on Thursday. Full coverage begins at 20:30 UK time.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy -22
2017 - Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt -27 (playoff)
2016 - Brian Stuard -15 (playoff)
2015 - Justin Rose -22
2014 - Seung-Yul Noh -19
What Will it Take to Win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans?
There have been no stats produced since the format change but we can look back to the old format for statistical clues.
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 three years 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 prior to the format change was 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 in 2016 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 before the format change 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.
This time last year we witnessed the reigning Players Champ, Si Woo Kim, reach a playoff at Hilton Head and following defeat in extra time here two years ago, Kevin Kisner lost a playoff at three different Pete Dye tracks, having also lost a playoff at both Hilton Head and Sawgrass in 2015. Anyone with form at Pete Dye designed tracks is worth consideration.
PGA Tour maidens had a cracking record in this event prior to the format change and one of the 2017 winning duo, Cameron Smith, was winning on the PGA Tour for a first time, so if you fancy a pair of rookies to do well don't be put off. All three playoff protagonists in 2016, 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 before it became a pairs event were breaking their PGA Tour ducks in this event.
Playing as a pair is far less stressful than playing on your own so it's a chance for those that struggle in-the-mix in individual events to shine.
Course form looks well worth considering here. Horschel won the individual event in 2013, Jason Dufner, who finished second playing alongside Pat Perez, won the tournament in the old format back in 2012 and the two defeated playoff protagonists from 2017, Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown, led through three rounds last year and they were matched at just 2.568/5 before they capitulated to finish tied for 15th.
Similar Events to Consider?
We don't have too many tournaments to compare to this one. There's the limited-field QBE Shootout staged before Christmas each year and the World Cup of Golf but that's about it so form in those events might be worth bearing in mind and of course, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup form will be worth considering too.
Stuard was the ninth winner in 11 years to be in front with a round to go in the old format and the 2017 winners were in front after three rounds too but Horschel and Piercy won from three shots back and tied fifth with a round to go last year. They were helped greatly by those ahead of them though and I'd definitely favour the leaders if they're a strong pairing.
Aussie pairing, Adam Scott and Jason Day, are very obvious favourites. They teamed up to win the 2013 World Cup of golf with consummate ease on home soil and there's absolutely no reason to think they won't contend here. Scott hasn't played here before but he's been in reasonable form of late and Day has a fourth and a fifth here and arrives fresh off a fifth placed finish at the US Masters. Big chance.
Without being disrespectful, Sergio Garcia is an upgrade on Chris Paisley for England's Tommy Fleetwood and there's no reason to think he and Sergio can't improve on the fourth place Fleetwood and Paisley secured 12 months ago - although it's fair to say Garcia's course form isn't spectacular. He finished 70th back in 2010 in the old format and he missed the cut alongside countryman, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, 12 months ago.
A pair of Patricks sit third best in the market - Cantlay and Reed and of the market leaders, they're the pair I fancy the least. Having contended at both the US Masters and last week's RBC Heritage, Cantlay may well need a rest and Reed hasn't been at his best for a while. They are a solid, established and improving pairing though, having finished tied 14th in 2017 and tied seventh 12 months ago.
I can't say I'm overly enthusiastic about this event but I have backed the Patton Kizzire/Brian Harman pairing which won the QBE Shootout together last year.
Kizzire was eighth here in the last individual event in 2016 and he was fifth alongside Dufner in 2017 when Brian Harman finished tied for 14th alongside Johnson Wagner.
Kizzire's in better form than Harman but the latter name did finish eighth at the Players Championship last month. I thought they were a decent price given they have won together and performed reasonably well at the venue.
Patton Kizzire and Brian Harman @ 85.084/1
I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.
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