The PGA Tour returns to New Orleans for the third edition of the Zurich Classic, the only team event on the Tour’s regular season schedule. Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith were the inaugural winners of the pairings format, with the duo of Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy taking home the prize last year.
The field at TPC Louisiana is not particularly strong with Brooks Koepka the only player ranked in the world top 10, although seven of those ranked between Nos. 11 and 20 will be teeing it up this week, including No. 18 Patrick Cantlay and No. 19 Patrick Reed. The two Patricks will comprise the only team of players ranked in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Rankings.
Two other teams in the field comprised of top-30 ranked players include Aussies Jason Day (No. 14) and Adam Scott (No. 28) and Euros Tommy Fleetwood (No. 15) and Sergio Garcia (No. 29).
Storylines are many, including the teaming up of the Koepka brothers – top-ranked superstar Brooks and his younger brother Chase, who holds the second worst ranking in the field at No. 924.
Tournament: Zurich Classic
Dates: April 25-28, 2019
Where: New Orleans, LA.
Course: TPC Louisiana
Distance: Par 72, 7,425 yards
Architect: Pete Dye
Format: 72-holes, team format, 36-hole cut
Team Play: Best-ball (Thu, Sat), Alternate-shot (Fri, Sun)
Winning Share: $1,051,200 (each player)
Defending Champions: Billy Horschel/Scott Piercy
TV AND ONLINE
While this will only be the third edition as a team format event, the Zurich Classic has been around for a very long time, with roots going all the way back to 1938. That first tournament was called the “Crescent City Open,” with Harry Cooper cashing a winner’s check worth $1,200. It was the 30th victory of his 31-win Hall of Fame career.
Other legendary Zurich champions include Jimmy Demaret (1940), Byron Nelson (1945-46), Billy Casper (1958, 1975), Gary Player (1972), Jack Nicklaus (1973), Lee Trevino (1974), Tom Watson (1980-81), Seve Ballesteros (1985), Ben Crenshaw (1987, 1994) and Vijay Singh (2004).
Despite nearly 70 editions of the tournament (there were no tournaments from 1949-1957), no player has been able to win the title more than twice, with nine players currently owning two victories.
Carlos Franco (1999 and 2000) was the last golfer to snag the title two times. He was also the fourth player in tournament history go back-to-back in the Big Easy, joining the aforementioned Nelson (1945-46) and Watson (1980-81), alongside Bo Wininger (1962-63).
The event has always been held in the New Orleans area, with TPC Louisiana – a design of the legendary architect Pete Dye, first hosting in 2005. It has been the host course since 2007, and has been prone to surrendering some very low scores.
The last five 72-hole Zurich champions (weather shortened it to 54 holes in 2016) have finished 19-under par or better.
HISTORY: TOURNAMENT NAMES
• Zurich Classic of New Orleans (2005-19)
• HP Classic of New Orleans (2003-04)
• Compaq Classic of New Orleans (1999-02)
• Freeport-McDermott Classic (1996-98)
• Freeport-McMoran Classic (1994-95)
• Freeport-McMoran Golf Classic (1992-93)
• USF&G Classic (1982-1991)
• USF&G New Orleans Open (1981)
• Greater New Orleans Open (1980)
• First NBC New Orleans Open (1975-1979)
• Greater New Orleans Invitational (1972-74)
• Greater New Orleans Open Invitational (1958-78)
• New Orleans Open (1939-1948)
• Crescent City Open (1938)
HISTORY: RECENT WINNERS
2018: Billy Horschel/Scott Piercy (-22)
2017: Jonas Blixt/Cameron Smith (-27)
2016: Brian Stuard (-15)
2015: Justin Rose (-22)
2014: Seung-Yul Noh (-19)
2013: Billy Horschel (-20)
2012: Jason Dufner (-19)
2011: Bubba Watson (-18)
HISTORY: TOURNAMENT RECORDS
262 (-26) Chip Beck (1988)
261 (-27) Jonas Blixt/Cameron Scott (2017), Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown (2017)
2 – Henry Picard (1939, 1941), Byron Nelson (1945-46), Bo Wininger (1962-63), Frank Beard (1966, 1971), Billy Casper (1958, 1975), Tom Watson (1980-81), Chip Beck (1988, 1992), Ben Crenshaw (1987, 1994), Carlos Franco (1999-00)
Scott Piercy and Billy Horschel posted a final-round 5-under 67 to capture the 2018 Zurich Classic by one shot over the team of Jason Dufner and Pat Perez.
Piercy and Horschel finished their fourth day at TPC Louisiana bogey-free with five birdies, including a run of three gains around the turn (Nos. 7, 10, and 11) en route to a four-day score of 22-under par.
Dufner and Perez, who entered Sunday tied for fifth with Horschel and Piercy, finished solo-second at 21-under par following a bogey-free 68.
Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel also signed for a clean 68 on Sunday, highlighted by four-straight birdies on Nos. 10-13. The South African duo finished solo-third on 20-under par, one clear of Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Paisley, who eagled the par-5 18th to jump into the top 5 alongside Chesson Hadley and Brice Garnett at 19-under par.
FINAL TOP 5
1. Billy Horschel/Scott Piercy -22
2. Jason Dufner/Pat Perez -21
3. Charl Schwartzel/Louis Oosthuizen -20
4. Chris Paisley/Tommy Fleetwood -19
4. Brice Garnett/Chesson Hadley -19
Team play is notoriously hard to predict, as evidenced by the two pairs of winners here – neither of which included a player ranked inside the world top 75 at the time of victory. In fact only Horschel (No. 76) was ranked in the top 100.
The highest-credentialed team in the field this year is world No. 18 Patrick Cantlay and No. 19 Patrick Reed. This duo finished T7 in 2018, T14 in 2017, and seem as likely as any team to be in the mix this year.
Three groups that also have potential, and figure to be among the biggest draws for the New Orleans golf fans, include the Koepka brothers: world No. 3, and reigning U.S. Open and PGA Champion, Brooks Koepka, along with his younger brother, Chase Koepka. Team Koepka posted a T5 in their debut in 2017 – their only appearance.
A pair of Euros, world No. 15 Tommy Fleetwood and No. 29 Sergio Garcia, are sure to be another popular group to follow. The twosome were part of the winning European Ryder Cup team last fall in France.
Finally, one other group to keep an eye on is the top-ranked Aussie pair of Jason Day (No. 14) and Adam Scott (No. 28). The major champions teamed together to win the 2013 ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf.
ODDS TO WIN
Zurich Classic | TPC Louisiana | New Orleans, LA | Apr 25-28, 2019
Carey Hoffman contributed to this report.
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images