This week the PGA Tour heads to Louisiana for the first team event of 2019, the Zurich Classic. Originally an individual event from its inception in 1938 right the way through to 2016, the tournament committee decided the change the format in 2017 to rejuvenate the event.
Now, there are 80 teams of two with one player chosen from the Priority Rankings and their partner chosen by said player. The partner must be a PGA Tour member or receive an invite, but this does allow some interesting partnerships. The first and third rounds of the event are scored as best ball or “four-ball” and the second and final round will be scored using alternate shot or “foursomes”. To make the cut this week your team will need to be top-35 or tied going into the weekend.
In 2017, Cameron Smith teamed up with Swede, Jonas Blixt and the former grabbed his first and currently only win on the PGA Tour whilst the latter was winning for the third time. Last year Billy Horschel won at this course for a second time, as he won the event as an individual back in 2014, before adding a second trophy, this time with partner Scott Piercy. Horschel and Piercy outlasted another former winner of this event, Jason Dufner and his partner Pat Perez to win by one stroke.
Adam Scott and Jason Day team up this week and the Aussies are arguably the team to beat. The two have won together before, when they lapped the field on home soil at the World Cup of Golf in 2013 and their current form suggests they can achieve similar this week. Day’s typically solid short game complements Scott’s elite ball-striking well, with putting often the Achilles Heel in Scott’s game. Day finished T5 at the Masters a fortnight ago and that adds to impressive efforts at; The Players (T8), Pebble Beach (T4), Farmers Insurance Open (T5) and the CJ Cup (T4), so he’s clearly close to winning this season, despite all-too-familiar injury woes. Scott has shown glimpses as well, thanks to an improved putting stroke, finishing 2nd at the Farmers, T7 at Riviera and T12 at the Players. He stuttered over the weekend at Augusta, shooting 72-73 which saw him fall into a tie for 18th after looking primed for another shot at the Green Jacket after 36 holes. They weren’t as successful as a team at the 2015 Presidents Cup as they could only muster half a point against Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson but they are at least unbeaten. They will surely feature over the weekend here.
Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood pair up this week after both were part of the winning Ryder Cup side in Paris last September. Fleetwood played with compatriot Chris Paisley here last season and the pair finished in a tie for 4th and Fleetwood will be hoping to go slightly better this time around. Neither player made too many headlines at Augusta last time out, with Garcia missing the cut and Fleetwood finishing a solid-but-not-spectacular T36 but both players have been on decent runs in 2019. Garcia has four top-9 finishes in stroke play events since the turn of the year and Fleetwood can boast a pair of top-5 finishes at Bay Hill and the Players, and the latter also finished T25 at Harbour Town last week. Both amongst the world’s elite in terms of ball striking, this duo could easily lead the field in fairways and greens this week, but they share similar shortcomings when it comes to putting, something they will have to overcome. Garcia currently ranks 63rd in SG: Putting and Fleetwood T94. Despite there being somewhat of an asterisk next to it, this would be Fleetwood’s first win on the PGA Tour should the pair combine for victory this week.
Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed team up for the third straight year and the pair will be hoping their increasing chemistry will allow them to improve on their T14 and T7 showings so far. We know Cantlay has been one of the more solid pros on Tour since returning from injury/personal problems in 2017 and he’s shown that again this season, with seven top-10 finishes in twelve starts. Two of those have come over the last fortnight as he finished T9 at the Masters and T3 at the Heritage last week. Cantlay briefly led at the Masters after birdieing his 15th hole on Sunday to get to 12-under-par, but two bogeys in his last three holes cost him a chance of a Green Jacket. Still, he bounced back from that disappointment in great style at the Heritage and he will hope his partner can find some form, despite his struggles. Reed’s game has never looked as vulnerable as it did when shooting 77-75 at the Valspar to miss the cut, which led to wife Justine contacting David Leadbetter for help. Reed finished T36 when defending his title at Augusta last timeout, which is respectable enough given the pressures that come with being the reigning Masters champion and he will look to play a significant part in any success this week.
Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer are perhaps the most volatile pairing in the field as both have the ability to run hot in both a positive and negative sense, but it’s this character that allows both to string birdies together. Both Rahm and Palmer missed the cut alongside their respective partners last year but when Palmer teamed up with Jordan Spieth for the first time in 2017 the pair finished 4th in this event. Palmer finished T28 at Harbour Town last week, failing to capitalise on a first round 66 which left him just one off the lead going into Friday. Top-4 finishes at both the CJ Cup and the Honda Classic, as well as top-13 finishes at the Shriners (T7) and the Farmers Insurance Open suggest Palmer is playing well enough this season though, to help his teammate contend this week. Rahm has been brilliant all season long, as he has been ever since turning professional and four under-par rounds at Augusta last time out ensured another top-10 finish in the first major of the season. It is easy to see why this pairing are amongst the favourites.
Defending champions Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy return this week as the pair look for back-to-back victories. Horschel was already a course winner, as he won this event as an individual in 2014 and his streaky putting stroke helped the pair take advantage of Piercy’s excellent ball striking. The duo will be hoping for a similar recipe this week and both have shown flashes of form individually this season. Horschel has top-11 finishes at the WGC HSBC Champions and Farmers Insurance Open (8th) to his name this season, and wasn’t far away from a top-10 at the Honda Classic when finishing T16. Piercy finished T3 at the Heritage last week and that was his fourth top-10 of the season, so he’s been fairly consistent so far. Considering Horschel’s ability to get hot and Piercy’s consistency it is no surprise the pair teamed up well last season and they will have every chance of defending their title this week.
Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes is the most powerful partnership in the field and whilst neither have found consistency all season, both know how to win, with Holmes doing so at Genesis Open earlier this year. Watson finished T12 at Augusta as he looked to add a third Green Jacket to his collection and until he bogeyed the 16th hole it looked as though that may be the case. Tiger Woods still had scoring holes on his side though, so it was a tough task for Watson but it was another promising effort nonetheless. Holmes started the week positively with a two-under-par opening round followed by a level-par 72 on Friday. Rounds of 74-80 over the weekend saw him fall to a tie for 62nd and this followed a T74 showing in Texas and missed cuts at both Bay Hill and the Players, so it appears his game needs some work following his win at Riviera. T4 finishes at the Phoenix Open and the Valspar highlight Watson’s decent form this season and he will hope his partner can show something this week to help him. The pair finished T5 in this event in 2017 the last time they teamed up.
Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell have been on the same Ryder Cup team twice and also played on the same Royal Trophy team back in 2006, but never have they been partnered together. This week we will see how the two combine especially with McDowell enjoying something of a resurgence this season. After showing signs of form at both the RSM Classic (T11) and at Pebble Beach (T18) – the scene of his U.S. Open victory in 2010, McDowell bested a weak field at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. This got him into the winners’ circle for the first time since his 2014 Open de France win and was also his first PGA Tour victory since winning last week’s event, the RBC Heritage in 2013. He backed his win up with a T7 finish at the Valero Texas Open, where a win would have got him into the Masters. It wasn’t to be that week but it is clear the intention is to qualify for the Open Championship, which is at his home venue, Royal Portrush this year. Stenson on the other hand has shown little form anywhere since finishing 4th at both the Hero World Challenge and Indonesian Masters at the tail end of 2018. A T17 at one of his favourite courses, Bay Hill is his only top-20 in 2019, but his T24 finish at the Valspar should have been much better also. T36 at Augusta last time out, it appears Stenson may well be finding some form, even if consistency is tougher to come by. Stenson is used to playing with Justin Rose in this event, with the pair missing the cut in 2017 before a T19 finish in 2018, despite being heavily favoured both times. McDowell finished T22 with Ian Poulter last year, but neither player has excelled in this event so far and with Stenson some way short of his best, they could be opposed this week.
Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown lost in a play-off back in 2017 and also led after 54-holes last year, only to shoot five-over on Sunday to fall into a tie for 15th. Kisner comes into this week with the memory of his biggest Tour win still fresh in the mind. He won this year’s WGC Match Play, after finishing runner-up last year and will look to add to his cabinet this week. Brown comes into the event with his own form under his belt, as he’s finished inside the top-10 three times this season, most recently at the Texas Open where he finished T7 in his quest to make the Masters. This Georgia Bulldog duo has worked well over the past two years and that can continue this year, with some each-way value definitely on the table.
Brothers Brooks and Chase Koepka team up for the second time in this event. Brooks is a three-time major champion and global superstar, but Chase is still looking to find his way on the professional scene. The two finished T5 here two years ago and with Chase now more experienced and Brooks playing as well as ever, they could finish higher up the leaderboard and potentially contend this time around. Whilst no World Ranking points are up for grabs in this event, the winners do receive a two-year PGA Tour exemption and Brooks would no doubt love to get the pair over the line so Chase can join him on Tour. Whilst Brooks will no doubt have to do the heavy lifting (no pun intended), Chase proved his ability at last year’s BMW SA Open when finishing T7 and can certainly contribute to another victory for Brooks and a first for himself.
Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown to win (each way)
Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson Top Europeans