The Zurich Classic was in a tough spot on the PGA Tour schedule. Three weeks after the Masters and two weeks before the Players Championship, many golfers at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) were skipping the event.
Some were still recovering from the mental and physical pressure from the first major championship of the year. Others were committed to the Wells Fargo Championship the week before the Players and didn’t want to play three consecutive events.
Tournament organizers weren’t sure how to attract top golfers. That’s the group decided to give the team concept a try: Rounds 1 and 3 would play using an alternate-shot format, while Rounds 2 and 4 would feature four-ball, or best ball, play. There would be 80 two-man teams and then cut to 35 on for the last two days. This would be the first team event since 1981.
The Zurich Classic, played this week at the TPC Louisiana in New Orleans, is the only FedExCup team event on the PGA Tour. And the introduction of team play seems to have changed this event from a PGA afterthought to a highlighted change of pace.
Tournament officials nervously awaited commitments from players for last year’s inaugural format change and much to their surprise the entries started to roll in. Six of the top 10 ranked pros played.
“There’s no question that this is one of the strongest fields we’ve had in years and we’re thrilled with the response since announcing the format change,” tournament organizer Steve Worthy said to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “We’re already bringing in some of the best players the world has to offer and we’re hoping the event can only grow from here.”
Jason Day, who is No. 14 in the OWGR, told reporters last year that he wished there were more tournaments like Zurich. He and partner Ryan Ruffels are at 33/1 to win.
“You don’t really get to team up that much, other than the President’s Cup and Ryder Cup,” Day said. “To have a tournament on the PGA Tour schedule where I can team up with one of my best buds out there is pretty special.”
While golfers are happy, those that bet on the game might get easily frustrated. Handicapping the event is one of the tougher tasks of the year.
Last year’s winners were the duo of Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith, not exactly household names. They are 33/1 to defend their title, far below favorites Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, who are at 7/1.
Rose and Stenson are the top picks because of their Ryder Cup experience and high individual ranking. Rose is No. 5 and Stenson is No. 15. Also Rose won this event in its old format in 2015.
Masters Champion Patrick Reed is paired with Patrick Cantlay are the second choice at 12/1. The two Patricks tied for 14th here last year, and they had a second-round 62.
Jordan Spieth has teamed up with Ryan Palmer and the two are listed at 14/1. Spieth is ranked No. 3 and the two finished tied for fourth in 2017. Spieth has been off since his thrilling charge at the Masters. Palmer has struggled this year, but is hoping he can work with Spieth and contribute like he did last year.