This article is part of our FanDuel PGA series.
Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Course: TPC Louisiana (7,425 yards, par 72)
Winners: $1,069,300 and 400 FedExCup points each
With one change back in 2017, the Zurich Classic went from an easy skip for most of the top-ranked players in the world to a fun test that many are interested in. That change of course was to move the event from standard individual stroke play, to two-player team stroke play. The first and third rounds will be a best-ball format, while rounds two and four will be alternate shot. Players are allowed to partner with anyone they choose, but as a result no OWGR points will be awarded or will either winner not already eligible be exempt into the Masters. The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the Zurich Classic last season, so Ryan Palmer and Jon Rahm are back to try to defend their title from 2019. Joining in the field them will be some interesting teams like the American's with no weaknesses of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, the Aussie's of Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, old college rivals Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff, the bombers of Tony Finau and Cameron Champ, and the former European Ryder Cup teammates of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. In total, there will be 80 teams that will tee it up at TPC Louisiana this week with the low-33 teams and ties making the 36-hole cut. Rounds one and four should be ideal whether wise, but there are chances to see some heavy precipitation on Friday and Saturday that should soften the course. Winds should hover between 10-20 miles per hour throughout the duration of the event.
2019 – Ryan Palmer and Jon Rahm (-26)
2018 – Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy (-22)
2017 – Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith (-27)
2016 – Brian Stuard (-15)
2015 – Justin Rose (-22)
2014 – Seung-yul Noh (-19)
2013 – Billy Horschel (-20)
2012 – Jason Dufner (-19)
2011 – Bubba Watson (-15)
2010 – Jason Bohn (-18)
Key Stats to Victory
- SG: Approach
- SG: Putting
- SG: Off-the-Tee
This will be the second week in a row that we visit a Pete Dye designed golf course, but visually it will be a much different looking test than Harbour Town. The fairways at TPC Louisiana are generous, but they will look St. Andrew's wide for the players that were in the field at Harbour Town where even if you're on the short grass there's no guarantee you're going to have a straight shot to the pin. Historically length hasn't been a huge factor in this event, but if it plays soft as expected the bombers should be able to feast with limited rollout and with fairways that will play even wider. As is the case most weeks, the second shot will be the most important. The greens are pretty undulating and segmented, which will make not just hitting the green but finding the correct tier important for giving your team chances at birdies. Specifically in the best-ball format, the teams that are consistently giving themselves multiple looks for birdies on every hole are going to be the teams that can hang that low number you need to be able to stay in the tournament by Sunday afternoon. Scrambling is another important factor here, with many of the greens being raised. Those that are confident in their technique off a tight Bermuda lies will have a chance to separate, particularly when it comes to the alternate shot format where par is not always a bad score. Lastly, you're going to have to go really low to win this week and do that the putter has to be working. The greens are being prepped to run at about 12.5 on the Stimpmeter, but with the expected rainfall in rounds two and three that could created opportunities for players to be a little more aggressive and not have to worry about the run out for missing. In the short history of the team format at the Zurich Classic, best-ball is just about making enough birdies to stay in it, while alternate shot is really where you can see separation and why the Tour elected to put that format in for the final round. The 2019 champions of Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer set the alternate shot record of seven-under 65 in the second round on their way to a three-stroke victory.
FanDuel Value Picks
The defending champs are my easy favorite this week. They have experience in this event together and they are both coming in playing great golf. Rahm somehow has not won since the FedExCup playoffs last season, but he's 12-for-12 with eight top-10's this campaign. Palmer is 12-for-13 this season with seven top-20's and has three career top-four finishes at TPC Louisiana. Both players are exceptional ball-strikers that can pile up the birdies.
The Aussie team has been led this season by Smith who is coming in with finishes of T17-or-better in five of his last six starts. Smith's short game and putting have been tremendous this season and that's why he's top-12 on Tour in both birdie average and scoring average. Leishman on the other hand has traditionally been led more by his ball-striking. The 37-year-old should compliment Smith's game well and is coming off a T5 at the Masters.
Kirk has had a very impressive last couple months, as he owns four top-10's and seven top-25's in his last nine starts. All facets of his game have been strong, as he ranks 22nd in SG: Total and 13th in scoring average. Todd should be a perfect partner for Kirk, as he has been one of the best putters on Tour over the last couple seasons. Todd also has good touch around the greens and is currently tops in FIR percentage.
While Hatton has not had the high finishes as consistently as last season, his statistics are still quite impressive. He ranks 20th in SG: Off-the-Tee, ninth in SG: Approach, 11th in proximity to the hole, and 29th in putts per GIR. His fellow countryman off an eighth-place finish in Punta Cana and a T18 last week at Hilton Head in his last four starts. Willett isn't the ball-striker that Hatton is, but his short game is the better of the two. Willett is 12th in one-putt percentage and 34th in SG: Around-the-green this season.
Longer Shots with Value
The Norwegian team that were former teammates at Oklahoma State are very familiar with each other's games. They should be a strong pairing considering that Hovland has already established himself as one of the best ball-strikers in the game, while Ventura is a solid mix of power and is a top-10 putter on Tour. Neither comes in with the best of form, but that can be turned around quickly with such a unique format this week.
Tringale's season has been very underrated. He's 12-for-15 with three top-10's and nine top-30's. Tringale is one of just a limited number of players to rank top-40 in both SG: Putting and SG: Tee-to-Green this season. There are no weaknesses in his game right now and he is heading to perhaps his best course on Tour, where he has recorded three top-10's and six top-30's in 10 career starts. Castro does not have full status on the PGA Tour this season but is coming off a top-20 in his last start. Castro has historically been a very solid iron and short game player. This same duo notched a top-5 at TPC Louisiana back in 2019.
Ghim and Suh are old college rivals who should be very familiar with each other's game. Ghim has had an impressive start to this season going 12-for-16 with six top-25 finishes. He also ranks top-25 on Tour in SG: Approach, SG: Tee-to-green, proximity to the hole, and scrambling. Suh is playing on limited status, but in his six starts on the PGA Tour he has made the cut all but once and finished T37-or-better in all of those made cuts. Suh is another strong ball-striker that should give this team a lot of chances at birdies in the best ball format.
In the three years of this team format at the Zurich Classic, no squad has been collectively better than Kisner and Brown with finishes of 2nd-T15-T5. Both players have similar games as short and accurate hitters with good touch both on and around the greens. Neither is coming in with ideal form, but it's hard to beat this price for a duo that has been as strong as they have at TPC Louisiana in this format.
Strategy Tips This Week
Based on a Standard $60K Salary Cap
With the uniqueness of the format this week, recent form shouldn't be that high on the list of things to look at. While it's always nice to have some confidence off recent play, I place much more stock into the fit of the two players together. I think having a partner that can cover off a weakness in your game will really be beneficial. You don't really think of Brendon Todd, Danny Willett, and Kris Ventura as great ball-strikers. Those players are known a lot more for their strong putting. Now pair that elite skill with the level of ball-striking Chris Kirk, Tyrrell Hatton, and Viktor Hovland bring and you can really start cooking something up. Since the players are allowed to pick their partner, it's expected that they probably have a good friendship, but any sort of experience that they have as a team either in this event or even back to college days will certainly be a benefit.