The Punter

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Irish pair fancied in New Orleans

Golfers Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry at the Ryder Cup

The PGA Tour moves on to New Orleans this week for its only stroke play team event of the year and Steve Rawlings has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start here...

  • Quality line-up for the pairs event

  • Austin Country Club form a big plus

  • Read my ISPS Handa Championship preview here


Tournament History

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 the field is stronger again this year with some notable pairings.

The 2022 winners, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, are joined by the Fitzpatrick brothers again, the Hojgaard twins, Collin Morikawa and Kurt Kitayama and Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry. It's a fun and relaxing week for the pros after the year's first major championship and a competetive Signature Event.

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.jpg

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 five winning pairs have all reached at least 20-under-par (see below), last year's winners, Davis Riley and Nick Hardy got it to -30, and the 2022 winners, Schauffele and Cantlay, opened the event with a 59 on Thursday!


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 16:00 on Thursday.


Last Eight Winners with Pre-event 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
2023 - Nick Harding and Davis Riley -30 70.069/1


What Will it Take to Win the Zurich?

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. A

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, 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.

Leishman and Smith.jpg

The 2022 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.

Austin Country Club form a big plus

Form at events staged at other Pete Dye courses is worth looking at but one tournament in particular looks well worth considering - the now defunct WGC Match Play.

The final seven editions of the WGC Match Play were 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 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, the 2022 Match Play winner, Scottie Scheffler, finished eighth alongside Bubba Watson in 2021 and the final Match Play winner, Sam Burns, has finished fourth, second and 11th with Horschel as his partner in the last three editions.


Class Acts Shine in New Format

We've now had six renewals up until last year, since the format changed, the pre-event price of the winning pairings had been getting 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 three of the last four 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 two years ago (finished T29th) but the winners, Schauffele and Cantlay, were the second favourites before the off.

Riley and Hardy win the Zurich.jpg

Last year's winners went off at 70.069/1 but concentrating on the front of the market is probably the best way to go.


Winner's Position and 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 Cam Smith tied second and one off the lead 4.47/2
2022 - Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay led by five 1.21/5
2023 - Nick Harding and David Riley tied third and two back 15.014/1


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 three of the six 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, the 2022 victors were five in front, and last year's successful duo trailed by two.

This is a tough place to play catch up and I'd definitely favour the leaders if they're a strong pairing.


Market Leaders

The 2022 winners, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, head the market as they make their fourth appearance together.

The pair finished 11th on debut in 2021 and they finished tied for fourth when defending the title 12 months ago.

Cantlay again placed at the RBC Heritage on Monday and Schauffele finished 18th but that was his worst finish since he finished 25th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March.

The two friends are in fair form, they appear to enjoy the format and they'll be tough to beat.

Cantlay and x Schauffele Zurich.jpg

The Irish duo of Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry are the second favourites, and they look a fair price at around 8/19.00 in an event that tends to go to one of the fancied pairings.

Lowry finished 13th when playing alongside Ian Poulter two years but Rory has never played here before so that could be perceived to be a slight negative, although I'm not convinced.

McIlroy has won two US PGA Championships on two different Dye designs (Kiawah Island and Crooked Stick), he's played well repeatedly at Austin Country Club and he's also won the Players Championship at the Dye-designed Sawgrass so there's every reason to think he'll immediately take to this track.

Neither played has been in sensational form of late but the Ryder Cuppers could very easily inspire each other to play well this week and I like their chances.

Sahith Theegala and Will Zalatoris are an interesting pairing given they're both playing here for a second time after their previous partners went on to contend last year without them.

Theegala missed the cut alongside Beau Hossler two years ago and Zalatoris finished fourth alongside Davis Riley.

Riley went on to win last year's edition with Nick Hardy and Hossler finished third with Wyndham Clark, although that pairing led with a round to go and they were matched at odds-on when they led by two early on in round four.

Theegala finished second in the RBC Heritage on Monday and although Zalatoris was only 44th at Hilton Head, he finished ninth at Augusta two weeks ago and he finished inside the top four in both the Genesis Invitational and the Arnold Palmer Invitational recently so both men are in decent form.


Selection

This isn't a tournament that captures my imagination but I was happy to chance McIlroy and Lowry modestly before the off.

Back McIlroy & Lowry @ 9.28/1

Bet Here


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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