Relaxed format in the Big Easy
Stars return for the PGA Tour's only pairs event
Schauffele and Cantlay formidable defenders
The Zurich Classic of New Orleans dates all the way back to 1938 and with the exception of the 2020 edition, 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.
Many of the world's best have really taken to the new format and we've seen some strong fields of late and some well-fancied winners.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay will be defending their title but Collin Morikawa and Max Homa look a formidable team and we've also got the Fitzpatrick brothers teaming up, as well as the Ryder Cup captains playing with their vice-captains. It's fun and relaxing week for the pros.
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.
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 12 on the stimpmeter.
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, the four winning pairs have all reached at least 20-under-par (see below) and last year's winners, Schauffele and Cantlay, opened the event with a 59 on Thursday!
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 19:00 on Thursday
First Five 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
2021 - Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith -20 13.012/1
2022 - Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay -29 12.011/1
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.
The reigning Open champ, Cameron Smith, has won the title with two different partners and he's famed for his flat-stick prowess.
It's a low scoring event around a generous layout so it's all about holing plenty of putts.
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 seven 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, the brand-new Masters champ, Jon Rahm, won here in 2019, alongside Ryan Palmer, and the other six Match Play winners all have strong course form here.
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, the 2021 WGC Match Play winner, Billy Horschel, has won here twice - once in the old format in 2013 and also alongside Scott Piercy in 2018, last year's winner, Scottie Scheffler, finished eighth alongside Bubba Watson in 2021 and this year's Match Play winner, Sam Burns, has finished fourth and second with Horschel as his partner in each of the last two renewals.
Class Acts Shine in New Format
We've now had five renewals since the format changed and the pre-event price of the winning pairings has got shorter year-on-year.
Jonas Blixt and Cam Smith went off at triple figure price in the inaugural pairs event back in 2017 but in the fullness of time, Smith has turned into quite a player and the last three winning pairings have been very well-fancied, although we're yet to see any pre-event favourites win.
Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa were the beaten favourites 12 months ago (finished T29th) but the winners, Schauffele and Cantlay, were the second favourites before the off.
Concentrating on the front of the market looks the way to go.
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
2020 - Event Cancelled
2021 - Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith T2 and one off the lead 4.47/2
2022 - Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay led by five 1.21/5
Stuard was the ninth winner in 11 years to be in front with a round to go in the old format and three of the five 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.
The 2021 winners were only one off the lead through 54 holes, last year's victors were five in front, and I'd definitely favour the leaders if they're a strong pairing. This is a tough place to play catch up.
Practice buddies and defending champions, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, are firm favourites and deservedly so.
They won very easily 12 months ago having debuted together in 2021 when finishing tied for 11th and having finished third and fourth at the RBC Heritage on Sunday, the pair are in tip-top form.
Having finished only tied 29th last year when going off favourite alongside Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa returns with Max Homa as his partner. Homa finished tied 21st alongside Talor Gooch, who now plays on the LIV Golf Tour.
Morikawa has been playing fairly nicely this year but after a top-ten finish at the US Masters, he finished only tied for 31st at the RBC Heritage and Homa appears to have cooled of considerably since finishing second to Jon Rahm at Riviera and sixth in the Players Championship in March. He signed off the US Masters with a 78 on Sunday to finish 43rd and he didn't make the weekend at Harbour Town.
Sam Burns and Billy Horschel are back again, after finishing second 12 months ago (beaten by two) and they're my idea of the best value at anything above 20.019/1.
Horschel isn't playing especially well but he absolutely loves it here and Burns is in great form having just won the WGC Match Play. If the favourites and defending champs are to stutter, Horschel and Burns could be the two to capitalise.
The Fitzpatrick brothers, Matt and Alex, are interesting contenders but they're not for me. Matt will be on cloud nine after his win on Sunday at Harbour Town and Alex finished inside the top-ten on the Professional Golf Tour of India last time out so they're both in form, but Alex is probably not up to this just yet.
He was in front at halfway in India but fell to tied ninth with rounds of 71-73 over the weekend.
They're shortening up all the time but I was happy enough to take 22.021/1 about Horschel and Burns.
I'm away for a few days so there'll be no Find Me a 100 Winner piece this week but I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter