Lost in last year’s pandemic suspension, the team-centric Zurich Classic of New Orleans returns this week. The PGA Tour’s only team event is now in its fourth year of existence, transforming a tournament that was often lost in the post-Masters doldrums into one of the more captivating showcases of the American spring. This year’s field boasts a number of star squads in Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff, Tony Finau and Cameron Champ, and defending champs Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer.
However, the intrigue doesn’t stop at the marquee attractions. We compiled our favourite teams for this week’s Zurich Classic, a list fuelled by our winning prediction, curiosity and sheer excitement.
Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith
Of course these two top our list. Smith is a former Zurich winner who’s coming off back-to-back top-10s at Augusta and Harbour Town. Leishman also had a good run at the Masters with a T-5 finish. Of bigger concern: These two might be our last hope at a properly-executed high five/celebratory exchange between golfers. If they can’t pull it off, it ain’t never happening. For what it’s worth, our pick to win this week.
Sungjae Im, Ben An
Following a quick out at Augusta (77-80), Im bounced back with a nice week in Hilton Head and quietly remains of the most consistent players on tour (18 made cuts in 20 starts). A different tale for An, who travelled to New Orleans on the struggle bus: four straight missed cuts, 180th in strokes gained, outside the FedEx Cup top 150. However, An did finish T-2 at the Zurich in the final year of individual stroke play, and proved his mettle in this format at the 2019 Presidents Cup.
Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele
One of the upshots of the team format is the broadcast shouting, “Watch out for these guys, they could be a problem at the Ryder Cup!” at least a dozen times per round. It is the Zurich’s version of firm and fast during US Open week. That being said … watch out for these guys, they could be a problem at the Ryder Cup. Cantlay and Schauffele played together in all four team sessions of the 2019 Presidents Cup and both are expected to suit up for the Americans at Whistling Straits this year. The duo is ranked fourth and five in the FedEx Cup rankings, with Xander looking to parlay his strong play at the Masters into some New Orleans magic.
Cam Champ, Tony Finau
These two bashers were paired together at the QBE Shootout, which has to be the first time in history the QBE Shootout was used as a reference point … Although Finau continues to be a tour de force (ninth in scoring, 10th in strokes gained), Champ is surprisingly on the postseason fence, right on the number at 125th entering the week. Aside from his driving prowess (eighth in SG/off-the-tee), everything else is in need of fine-tuning: 91st in approach, 193rd around-the-green, 212th in SG/putting. Champ has shown signs of life, though, finishing T-34 at the Valero Texas Open and T-26 at the Masters after missing the cut in five of the previous six starts.
Doug Ghim, Justin Suh
Suh is the forgotten man of the heralded 2019 rookie class, experiencing a rough transition from the amateur to pro ranks, one that was worsened with a wrist injury. He’s also just 23, and has been solid in a limited number of appearances this season, making the cut in five of six starts and ranking second on tour in strokes gained/putting. He should pair well with Ghim, who has been one of the better iron players this season (13th in SG/approach) but has been a bit lost on the greens (153rd SG/putting). Ghim has six top-25s finishes, and was in the mix at the Players before a Sunday 78 submarined his final standing. This week could go ways in securing their tour futures for 2022.
Max Homa, Talor Gooch
Homa’s win and play this year have been recognised, but Gooch’s performance has gone under the radar, boasting three top-10s and ranking 34th in strokes gained. And though neither has glaring weak spots in their game, they two complement each other well: Homa is 35th in birdie average while Gooch is T-58, but Gooch is in the top 30 in bogey avoidance against Homa’s T-111 standing.
Jon Rahm, Ryan Palmer
The defending champs. If you’re wondering how these two got paired up, let Palmer elaborate. “I shot him a text, hoping he would bite,” Palmer said after their 2019 victory. “When a 42-year-old player is calling him, he’s probably like, Why does he want to play with me? But he accepted and what an awesome week.”
Before teaming up with Rahm, Palmer played in the first two iterations of the event with Jordan Spieth. Lesson to all the high-school guys out there: If there’s someone you want to take to formal, pop the question early.
Viktor Hovland, Kris Ventura
Hovland’s one of the premier tee-to-green players in the sport, but through the early stages of his career the short game remains unrefined (102nd in around-the-green, 96th in SG/putting). Luckily Ventura can fill in those holes, at least on the dance floors, ranking 10th in SG/putting this campaign. Since opening the season with a T-7 at the Safeway Open and T-6 at the Sanderson Farms Championship, Ventura has been in a funk, missing the cut in 10 of 14 starts, his best finish a T-36 at Bay Hill. A fine collegiate career at Oklahoma State and flying through the Korn Ferry Tour (two wins, two thirds in 11 starts in 2019) brought heavy expectations for Ventura. Playing with his Cowboy teammate in Hovland could be the catalyst to get going in the right direction.
Bubba Watson, Scottie Scheffler
Like Finau and Champ, the bombs will bring fans in. Yet there is a difference in style, a level of artistry with Watson’s game contrasted to Scheffler’s launch first, asking questions later approach. These types of dynamic, and how they rubs off on their partners, are one of the biggest draws of the event.
Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff
Morikawa’s putting woes are well-documented, but this event can defang those woes to a certain degree while allowing his tee-to-green game (first in approach, seventh in driving accuracy) to take centre stage. As for Wolff, his two recent WDs and a DQ at the Masters have raised concerns. He’s also the guy who went T-4/runner-up at the 2020 PGA and US Open seven months ago. Playing in an environment that is slightly-less pressurised with a player more than capable of helping with the burden could bring Wolff back into the light.
Bill Haas, Hunter Mahan
Critics of this event have called it gimmicky, or that the tournament occasionally has to go to the game’s fringes to fill its field. Yet there’s something endearing about giving a chance to players like Haas and Hunter, two guys who are attempting to find what once was and doing it with the help of each other.
Kevin Kisner, Scott Brown
Both are coming off missed cuts, but no matter. These are the bad men of the Bayou. The duo finished second in 2017, held the 54-hole lead in 2018 (ultimately finishing T-15) and came T-5 in 2019. They’re also somehow listed at 50-1. The disrespect Kiz is going to carry off that alone may be enough for the Aiken boys to take the title.