Zurich Classic of New Orleans: English pair poised to contend

Golfers Danny Willett and Tyrrell Hatton
Danny Willett and Tyrrell Hatton, fancied to go well in the Zurich Classic

The PGA Tour takes in its only stroke play team event this week and our man fancies an English pair to thrive in the format. Read Steve's in-depth preview here...

"Hatton’s approach play and scrambling figures are strong and Willett’s putting nicely so I can see these two quirky characters clicking."

Tournament History

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans dates all the way back to 1938 and it's with the exeption of last year when it was one of the events lost to the pandemic, 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 was a dramatic change to the format in 2017 when the event 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 12 months later, and 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.

Format

The 72-hole stroke play tournament features four-ball (best ball) during the first and third rounds and foursomes (alternate shot) during the second and fourth rounds.

The starting field consists of 80 teams (160 players) with the low 33 teams and ties after 36 holes making the cut.

Venue

TPC Louisiana, Avondale, Louisiana

Course Details

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 12 on the stimpmeter.

COPPERHEAD 2 2021.jpg

It's an easy course for the pros and in rain-softened conditions in 2015, Justin Rose won with a 22-under-par total. Under the new format, three winning pairs have all reached at least 22-under-par (see below).

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 19:00 on Thursday

First Three Pairs Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2017 - Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith -27 (playoff) 120.0119/1
2018 - Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy -22 65.064/1
2019 - Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer -26 19.018/1
2020 - Event Cancelled

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. Brian Stuard, who won the final individual edition in 2016, ranked only 79th for Driving Distance 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 was a fairly important stat here before the format change, 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 events staged at other Pete Dye courses is worth looking at but one tournament in particular looks well worth considering - the WGC Match Play.

The last five editions of the WGC Match Play have been staged at the Pete Dye designed Austin Country Club and its remarkable how many players have thrived at both events in such a short space of time.

Dustin Johnson, the 2017 winner of the Match Play, has only played here twice, missing the cut way back in 2008 and finishing only 43rd in 2015, but the man he beat in the final, Jon Rahm, won here in 2019, alongside Ryan Palmer, and the other four Match Play winners all have strong course form here.

Billy Horschel wins WGC.jpg

The 2016 Match Play winner, Jason Day, finished fourth and fifth in the last two individual events here, in 2015 and '16, the 2018 Match Play winner, Bubba Watson (who loves a Pete Dye design), won here in 2011, the 2019 Match Play champ, Kevin Kisner, was beaten in a playoff in this event, alongside Scott Brown, in 2017, and this year's WGC Match Play winner, Billy Horschel, has won here twice! Once in the old format in 2013 and alongside Scott Piercy in 2018.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2017 - Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith led by four 1.68/13
2018 - Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy tied fifth, trailing by three 16.015/1
2019 - Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer tied for the lead 2.8615/8

In-Play Tactics

Stuard was the ninth winner in 11 years to be in front with a round to go in the old format and two of the three winning pairs were in front through 54 holes. Horschel and Piercy won from three shots back and tied fifth with a round to go in 2018 but they were helped greatly by those ahead of them and I'd definitely favour the leaders if they're a strong pairing.

Market Leaders

Rahm and Palmer are very obvious favourites given they're defending the title but it's hard to imagine that Rahm has played much since the US Masters given he became a father for the first time just before the year's first major and I'm happy to swerve them.

The world number five, Xander Schauffele, and the tenth-best, Patrick Cantlay are a classy looking pairing but they're hard to fancy.

Playing alongside Tag Ridings, Schauffele was tied for 11th here in his only previous appearance but Cantlay has played in the event three times with Patrick Reed without threatening a win. The pair were tied 14th in 2017 and seventh in 2018 but they missed the cut in 2019 and Cantlay looks bang out of form this time around given he's missed his last three stroke play cuts.

The in-form Aussie pair of Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman are an interesting duo. Smith will have been a bit disappointed with his ninth-place finish in the RBC Heritage last week, having led after round one, but that came after a top-ten finish in the US Masters, where his playing partner finished fifth.

Leishman will be nicely refreshed after a week off and he's playing in the event in this format for the first time, having produced form figures here previously reading MC-28-20. Smith won the tournament alongside Jonas Blixt but that pairing have missed the last two cuts here.

The pairing I like best towards the head of the market is the former event winner, Bubba Watson, and the WGC Match Play runner-up, Scottie Scheffler, who's playing here for the first time.

As highlighted above, form at Austin Country Club transfers brilliantly but I'm not convinced Bubba is quite playing well enough to press the button at around 16/1.

Selections

I'll have another selection for the Find Me a 100 Winner column later on but for now my only pick is the English pairing of Tyrrell Hatton and Danny Willett.

Willett has never played here before and Hatton missed the cut on his only appearance in 2017, playing alongside Jamie Donaldson, but he has advanced from the group stage of the WGC Match Play twice and he was third in the RBC Heritage last year.

Neither man is in sparking form but Hatton's 18th in the US Masters and Willett's 18th in the RBC Heritage last week are decent enough efforts and they appear to have the perfect combined skillsets. Hatton's approach play and scrambling figures are strong and Willett's putting nicely so I can see these two quirky characters clicking.

Selection:
Willett/Hatton @ 36.035/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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