The Zurich Classic of New Orleans revamped its format to a team configuration last year, the first official US PGA Tour team-oriented event of its kind since 1981. It was a resounding success, transforming a tournament historically lost in the post-Masters doldrums into one of the more captivating showcases of the season.
Whatever contrived, eccentric criticisms the two-player arrangement drew weren’t bought by the players, as the field boasts tons of firepower in Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Justin Rose in Year 2. However, the intrigue doesn’t stop at the marquee attractions. We compiled our nine favourite teams for this week’s Zurich Classic, a list fuelled by our winning predictions, curiosity and sheer excitement.
Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed
The Patricks are teaming up for a second straight year at the Zurich, prompting us all to ask once again, “How did these two decide to play together?” According to Reed, Cantlay simply asked him when they met up at Riviera in 2017, and Reed “thought it was going to be a great idea.” Just like that, Team Patrick was born.
The duo found some success here a year ago, carding a second-round 62 and eventually tieing for 14th. The Masters champion is playing some of the best golf of his life, especially around the greens, ranking fourth in that strokes gained category. Cantlay’s starts have been limited since his breakthrough at the Shriners, but he’s made the most of them, including a T-7 earlier this month at Harbour Town. He’s as steady as they come, making 22 of his 23 cuts since returning to the PGA Tour, making him a perfect teammate for the sometimes-erratic Reed. — Christopher Powers
Pat Perez, Jason Dufner
Aside from the brothers Koepka, last year’s Zurich leaderboard was littered with second-shot and short-game savants: eventual champs Jonas Blixt/Cameron Smith, Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown, Kelly Kraft/Kevin Tway, Spieth/Ryan Palmer. That was the stated reason for placing Perez (fourth in GIR percentage) and Dufner (16th in approach last season) in this space. However, let’s drop the statistical facade: these two chaw-chewing 40-somethings are going to drown TPC Louisiana in their “Don’t give a $&@%” swaggo, and we are more than happy to toss on a life jacket. (For what it’s worth, their combined nicknames would make a helluva morning radio team. “You’re listening to Volcano and the Duf on 102 the Zoo!”) Throw in Dufner’s NOLA track record — a win and five top-10s in eight appearances, including a T-5 with Patton Kizzire last year – look for this duo to light up the leaderboard, along with social media, this weekend. — Joel Beall
Jimmy Walker, Sean O’Hair
A year after Walker’s Lyme disease treatment prevented this tandem from taking on TPC Louisiana, they’re back. And it sounds like they’ve spent much of the 12 months since trying to pick the perfect walk-up song. Last week, Walker revealed they may go with LL Cool J’s iconic “Mama Said Knock You Out.” And he promised the duo won’t do any dancing. How can you not support them? — Alex Myers
Jon Rahm, Wesley Bryan
Since Bryan’s win at Harbour Town last year, it’s been tough sledding for the former trick-shot artist. He’s had a lone top-25 finish the past calendar year and ranks 196th in strokes gained/tee-to-green this season. Luckily for Bryan, he’s teamed up with Rahm, a player so hot – nine top-five finishes in his last 17 events – this sentence just combusted. Honestly, the Spaniard could be paired with an unsuspecting fan forced to play opposite handed and he’d still find himself in Sunday contention.
Ranking first in birdie average and second in sg/off-the-tee, Rahm will set the squad up for plenty of birdies. And as much as Bryan’s struggled, he’s been lights-out when he has a wedge in his hands (first in proximity from 125-100 yards AND 125-50 yards). Coupled with their consistent work on the dance floor (both in the top 30 in sg: putting), this group should be on the short list of favourites. — JB
Justin Thomas, Bud Cauley
The University of Alabama duo has likely logged more time on the course together than any team in the field, both as teammates and now competitors. One would think they know each other’s games better than anybody, which should bode well in the alternate-shot rounds.
If that’s not enough to like about this team, Thomas has continued to cement himself as a top-three player in the world, having already won twice and nearly a third time at the WGC-Mexico in miraculous fashion. He’s got every part of his game clicking, ranking sixth or better on tour in strokes gained/approach-the-green, tee-to-green and total strokes gained. As for Cauley, he hasn’t had the success of his good buddy, but he’s quietly putting together one of his strongest years on tour, collecting seven top-25s and two top-10s. After last year’s T-5 from this squad, you have to like their chances to get it done this week. Roll Tide. — CP
Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson
On paper, Rose (No.5 in the Official World Golf Ranking) and Stenson (No.15) present the most formidable pairing out there. However, it didn’t work out so well last year when they missed the cut. Still, this pairing, battle-tested from playing plenty of Ryder Cup matches together deserves its position as the favourite (7-to-1 odds). They’re also the most likely to wear matching sunglasses. — AM
Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker
These two played together last week on the PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS circuit, finishing T-5 at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf. Their combined age? A whopping 102, or 53 years older than the Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels duo. And yet, this is far from a ceremonial pairing: the Kelly-Stricker combo finished T-14 at last year’s Zurich, and both remain competitive in their rising ages (Kelly posted a T-14 at the Sony Open, while Stricker finished T-12 at the Valspar Championship). The tour’s upper echelon is dominated by young guns, but these two are proof golf remains a game for all ages. — JB
Charlie Wi, K.J. Choi
This duo made headlines a year ago for the return of Wi, who was coaxed back into tournament golf by fellow countryman Choi. It turned out to be the right move, as the veteran South Korean team went on to tie for 24th and are now back for more in 2017.
Much like last year, it’ll be fascinating to see how Wi looks, having played in just 16 events since 2014, with his only top-25 coming with Choi. Wi teed it up twice late last year at the Sanderson Farms and the Safeway Open, but he missed both cuts. Choi, an eight-time PGA Tour winner, is not the player he once was, but he did recently pick up his first top-five finish since January of 2016 at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship last month. Perhaps these two could turn back the clock and surprise some people this week. — CP
John Peterson, Cody Gribble
If your life was on the line and you needed to pick this week’s winner, these two wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice. However, if your life was on the line because you happened to be trapped in a gator-infested swamp, they’d be your first call. Peterson famously pushed a gator at TPC Louisiana during this event in 2014 to help speed up play, and Gribble did him one better, giving a gator a love tap at Bay Hill in 2017. Rumour has it they’ve petitioned the course to put a reptile in every hazard and bunker. — AM