ZURICH CLASSIC: The weekly grind of the PGA Tour takes a detour this week, as the players get to partner up and have a little fun in the Big Easy before gearing up for a long summer.
This tournament has been around for over 50 years but due to scheduling and an unpopular golf course it was fading into irrelevance prior to 2017, when the decision was made to turn it into a team event. The new format has received mixed reviews from fans and bettors, but the players have responded positively and this event now attracts the type of big-name talent that simply wasn’t showing up previously.
The players choose their own partners, of course, and the resulting teams are always interesting, from old college buddies, to relatives, to countrymen, to practice partners… and sometimes you get plain old power-pairings, like the Viktor Hovland/Collin Morikawa team that heads BETDAQ’s Win Market this week. The winning teams have tended to consist of players who have played together before, either in this event or elsewhere, but with the format still being relatively new we don’t have enough evidence to make any definitive proclamations about the best way to approach a tournament like this. We do know the format, however– it will be best-ball (fourball) on Thursday and Saturday and the more difficult alternate shot (foursomes) on Friday and Sunday. In other words, a birdie blitz for the first and third rounds and a stressful test of the nerves for the other two. Nobody wants to let their partner down in Sunday alternate shot!
The host course will once again be TPC Louisiana, a Pete Dye design that is fairly friendly by Tour standards, with ample space off the tee and not as much severity around the greens as you normally expect from a Dye track. At 7,425 yards, it’s plenty long and it generally plays pretty soft, so length off the tee is a definite advantage, and the tee-to-green Bermuda should eliminate a few players from consideration. The players generally tear TPC Louisiana apart, so we can expect another winning score in the 25-under range. You’d better bring your birdies!
Here are three teams worth considering this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Sam Burns/Billy Horschel (13.5)- While this has generally been the type of event where the top of the market should be avoided, there are a couple of teams that seem almost too good to pass up this year, and Burns/Horschel heads the list for me. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you know that Sam Burns has exploded onto the scene and has become a threat to win anytime he tees it up. Over his last 22 PGA Tour starts, Burns has three wins and ten top-10 finishes, including seven top-5s. His last victory came at the Valspar, just two starts ago for him, and his T9-T26-1 run through the Florida Swing suggests big things should be in store on a Bermuda-covered Pete Dye course like TPC Louisiana. His partner, Billy Horschel, has been an absolute cash register in this event, winning in 2018 alongside Scott Piercy and finding the top-15 on two other occasions, including a T4 last year. On paper, this is the strongest team in the field this week.
Harold Varner III/Bubba Watson (30.0)- While Varner has yet to make the cut in this event since it switched to a team format, he is currently in the midst of the best stretch of his career, finishing 6th at The Players, T23 in his debut Masters appearance, and 3rd at the RBC Heritage last week, where he scorched Harbour Town with a Saturday 63. Watson, on the other hand, has been playing middling golf of late, but he has a fine record at TPC Louisiana, notching two top-10s in this event in the last four years, and his length and creativity should give this partnership an interesting dynamic in the alternate shot portion. These guys are also great friends off the course… not that it necessarily matters, but I do have a feeling we’re going to see some synergy and positive vibes out of this partnership this week, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they were to wind up in the winner’s circle.
Sepp Straka/Greyson Sigg (70.0)- These two were college teammates at Georgia so they’re certainly familiar with team golf and have undoubtedly been partners for many a cash game. Now the stakes are a little bigger, but high stakes haven’t been an issue for Straka lately, as he’s in the midst of a brilliant stretch which includes a victory at the Honda Classic, a T9 at The Players and a T3 at the RBC Heritage last week. His buddy Sigg hasn’t quite been on the same level but he’s been playing some solid golf himself, making 8 of 9 cuts in 2022 to solidify his playing status on the PGA Tour and potentially put himself in position to play in some majors. A win this week would be huge for Sigg’s career, and he’s got the sort of partner you want in a birdie-fest like this. This team has the perfect combination of longer odds and sky-high potential, making them well worth a bet in my book.