As thrilling as the recent action has been on the PGA Tour, many find it refreshing that this is the week of the schedule where – for the past three years, TPC Louisiana has played host to the annual Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the big tour’s only regular-season team format event.
The Zurich Classic debuted all the way back in 1938, and has boasted such legendary winners as Byron Nelson, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, and Seve Ballesteros. However, in 2017, the tournament made the decision to ditch the standard play in favor of an event that pits 80 teams of two against each other, with the four days alternating between alternate shot and best ball formats.
This year’s edition is the same, and while a general lack of exemptions in comparison to most events prevents an elite field from being assembled, there are a surprising amount of notable golfers at TPC Louisiana, including Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, and Henrik Stenson.
There are no shortage of storylines worth keeping an eye on this week, but here are the four we like best:
1. Team Koepka
One of the most recent and egregious examples of nepotism on the PGA Tour, Brooks Koepka is back in the field for this year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the third consecutive year he has entered since the event moved to a team format.
But, we are not talking specifically about Brooks. Why would we? The world No. 3 is a PGA Tour legend, having won three majors over the past two seasons. When we last saw him play, No. 4 was in his reach: he finished co-runner-up at The Masters, as he became the final player eliminated from the mix not named Tiger Woods, when his birdie putt he desperately needed to fall on the 18th green slid just inside the hole. There is no debate that Brooks is the best player in this week’s field.
The questionable nepotism comes from the fact that, for the second time, his partner will be his little brother, Chase. The 25-year-old younger brother is currently ranked 924th in the world. He spends most of his time on the European Tour, where he finished a dismal 182nd on last year’s Order of Merit. He has played just two PGA Tour events: the 2017 Zurich Classic, where he and Brooks teamed up, and the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, where he shot two over-par rounds and missed the cut.
He likely would have been Brooks’ partner again at TPC Louisiana last year, but there were complications after Brooks had missed the past several months of the season recovering from an injury, and he was a very late commitment to the Zurich.
While Chase might be a questionable addition to the field, it is hard to blame the Zurich Classic tournament managers for allowing it. While many view the event as a refreshing change from a PGA Tour dynamic that occasionally feels monotonous, the event is still often considered something of a gimmick, one which awards no world rankings points or exemptions for The Masters or The Open Championship.
Having a player of Brooks’ caliber is a boon for the event. He is the only player in the field ranked inside the top 10.
Not to mention, the brother duo performed well when they last played this event two years ago. They finished T5 and proved they can compete as a team, but it is fair to question how equal of a contribution both players provide to the effort.
2. Horschel-Piercy Defend
One year ago, the team of Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy captured the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, edging the team of Jason Dufner and Pat Perez by a single stroke.
Following a first-round 65, the duo fell back a bit with a second-day 73, but a third-round 61, combined with a Sunday 67 were enough to reach 22-under for the week, and leave the Big Easy with the big trophy.
The victory was the fifth of 32-year-old Horschel’s career, and the fourth for the 40-year-old Piercy. (The points and money count towards official PGA Tour stats, but not towards world rankings points.)
Horschel and Piercy proved that they have the chemistry to play well in this event, but can they do it again?
Horschel had a mostly-fantastic 2018 season where he finished fifth in the final FedExCup Standings, but the proud Florida product has not been quite as stellar in 2019. Horschel has made 14 cuts in 15 events, a promising development for a player who has been historically inconsistent, but he’s finished in the top 10 just once, a solo-eighth at January’s Farmers Insurance Open.
In the past two weeks, Horschel finished T56 at The Masters, and then T45 at the RBC Heritage. Outside of the greens, Horschel currently ranks outside the top 100 in every strokes gained category.
Piercy is older and less-highly regarded, but he has fared much better than Horschel in 2019. The Las Vegas native, like Horschel, has been great at making it to the weekend, with 12 made cuts in 14 starts, but his average finish has been better, with five top 10s on the season.
He failed to qualify for the Masters two weeks ago, but enters TPC Louisiana in good form after a T3 at last week’s RBC Heritage. Piercy has shown great accuracy on the current season, ranking 20th on Tour in driving accuracy and 15th in greens in regulation percentage.
3. Can Kisner-Brown Finally Break Through?
They have not finished atop the Zurich Classic of New Orleans leaderboard – at least not as of yet, but through two editions in the new format, no team has seemed to feel more comfortable with each other than that of Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown.
In the 2017 edition, Kisner and Brown shot a final-round 12-under 60 to reach 27-under for the week, and force a playoff they would lose on the fourth extra hole to Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt. The next year, they held the 54-hole lead, but after two birdies over the first three holes, they absolutely imploded, finishing with a shocking 5-over 77, dropping into a tie for 15th.
Kisner and Brown now come back as a team for the third consecutive season, hoping to put aside the difficult memories from last year’s final round. A big positive on this front: last season, Kisner also completely lost his game on a Sunday, suffering a humiliating championship match loss to Bubba Watson at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Then, in the 2019 edition a month ago, Kisner overcame his previous massive failure and won the entire tournament, impressively taking down red-hot Francesco Molinari and red-hot Matt Kuchar over the final two matches.
As tremendous as that win at TPC Austin was for the 35-year-old Kisner however, it was his only top 10 in 11 starts since the calendar flipped to 2019. He has been consistent, though, with seven of those 10 starts resulting in finishes between 21 and 28, including a T21 at the Masters.
Things have been more difficult for Brown on the season. While his three top-10s outnumbers Kisner by one, he’s missed half his cuts, including four of his last five. He has been solid off the tees, which should benefit the duo, but he’ll likely need to play better than he has for most of the season.
4. Other Intriguing Teams
Koepka-Koepka might get top billing at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, but they are just one team worth keeping an eye on. Here are a number of the more notable teams:
Cantlay & Reed
Patrick Cantlay, a player who appears on the periphery of Tour stardom, has been busy as of late. Two weeks ago, he had his Masters breakout: holding the solo-lead with just three holes left to play on Sunday, before a difficult closing three holes, combined with some clutch play going on in the groups behind him, knocked him into a tie for 9th.
While many of the contenders enjoyed a well-deserved rest last week, Cantlay was on Hilton Head Island for the most recent edition of the RBC Heritage, where he finished in a tie for third place. He performed easily the best in the field among those who had contended at Augusta, most notably Francesco Molinari and Dustin Johnson.
Patrick Reed, well-known for his tremendous play in high-profile team events, has not been in his best form during the 2019 season. He owns just a single top-10 in 11 starts, which occurred way back in November, and he was a pedestrian T36 in his title defense of the Masters two weeks ago.
The Cantlay-Reed team finished T7 at the Zurich Classic last year, and T14 in the 2017 edition.
Stenson & McDowell
Henrik Stenson typically plays this event with Justin Rose, a player with whom he has created a phenomenal and dynamic pairing in recent Ryder Cups.
This year, though, Rose is sitting out, so Stenson’s partner will instead be Graeme McDowell, who has been somewhat reborn in 2019, winning the opposite-field Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship on the final day of March, which he followed up with a T7 at the Valero Texas Open.
Stenson has been far from his best in 2019, but did play well at the recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where he emerged from the “Group of Death” that included Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, and Jim Furyk.
Day & Scott
The elite Aussie team were both factors at the Masters two weeks ago, with each holding a share of the halftime lead. Day finished T5 after reaching 11-under par for the week, just two strokes behind champion Tiger Woods, while Scott had a difficult weekend, dropping into a share of 18th place.
Additionally, both players finished inside the top 12 at THE PLAYERS Championship.
This will be Scott’s Zurich Classic debut since it transitioned to a team event, while Day finished T34 a year ago while being paired with fellow Aussie Ryan Ruffels. He surprisingly missed the cut while paired with Rickie Fowler in 2017.
Fleetwood & Garcia
With Stenson not paired with Rose, the most notable European pairing in the field at TPC Louisiana this week should be Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garica, who played together here in 2017.
Fleetwood finished T4 teamed with Chris Paisley last year, while Sergio missed the cut with Rafa Cabrera Bello. Neither made an impact at the Masters two weeks ago (Sergio missed the cut entirely), but they both possess the talent to make them among one of the most feared teams this week.
Pan & Kim
This team has become much more intriguing after C.T. Pan captured his maiden PGA Tour victory at last week’s RBC Heritage.
Michael Kim won last year’s John Deere Classic, but his 2019 season has been an absolute nightmare, as he’s missed his last 10 cuts. In fact, over his past 12 events, the only time he’s played on the weekend was at the no-cut Sentry event in January, where he finished T32 in a 33-man field.
Rahm & Palmer
At No. 11 in the world, Jon Rahm is the second-highest ranked player in the Zurich Classic field. He is looking for his first win of the season, but has seven top-10s in just 11 starts, including a T9 at the Masters.
Ryan Palmer is not as highly-regarded, but owns a share of the tournament’s single-round best-ball record, which he achieved with Jordan Spieth two years ago. Rahm and Palmer both missed the cut last year – Palmer while paired with Spieth; Rahm with Wesley Bryan.
Holmes & Watson
The favorite team of literature enthusiasts, J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson are undeniably the longest-hitting pair in this year’s event. The duo finished T5 in the 2017 edition, but fared significantly worse last year with different partners (Watson was T28 with Matt Kuchar, while Holmes missed the cut with Brandt Snedeker).
Watson won three events a season ago, and while he has not won this season, he has finished in the top 12 in two of his past three starts, including a T12 at the Masters. Holmes rode a Sunday collapse by Justin Thomas at Riviera to claim a win at the Genesis Open in February. Since that victory, he’s been terrible. In fact, the surprise win at Riviera is Holmes’ only top-10 of 2019.
Love & Love
No, this is not a tennis thing. Not much is expected from this team, but it will be the first father-son pairing in tournament history.
Davis Love III, the 55-year-old Hall of Famer, is a 21-time PGA Tour winner, but spends most of his time now on the senior circuit. His 24-year-old son, Davis Love IV, nicknamed “Dru”, is a product of the same Alabama program that gave us Justin Thomas, but the younger Love has struggled to live up to his dad’s name as a tour pro. Dru ranks 1246th in the world rankings – even worse than Chase Koepka, and in his last 10 PGA Tour starts, which spans three-plus years, he’s made just one cut, a T54 at the RSM Classic last November.