After a year off due to COVID, the PGA Tour returns to New Orleans for the fourth edition of the Zurich Classic, the only team event on the Tour’s regular season schedule. The duo of Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer will return to defend their 2019 title.
While a much different feel than any event on Tour, it does provide a nice respite from stroke play, with many still in hangover mode from The Masters two week ago.
The field at TPC Louisiana includes 160 players comprised of 80 two-man teams, headlined by teams such as top-ranked Americans Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, the only team with two top-10 ranked players. Other marquee teams include European Ryder Cup veterans Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose along with Aussies Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith, among others.
2021 Zurich Classic Primer
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Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Dates: April 22-25, 2021
Where: Avondale, LA
Course: TPC Louisiana
Distance: Par 72, 7425 yards
Architect: Pete Dye
Format: 72-holes, 36-hole cut, Teams
Type: Best-ball (Thu, Sat), Alt-shot (Fri, Sun)
Field: 160 players, 80 teams
Win Share: $1,051,200 (each)
Defending Champion: Jon Rahm/Ryan Palmer
How to Follow the Zurich Classic
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Zurich Classic History
While this will only be the fourth 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.
In late 2016, fresh off the exciting 2016 Ryder Cup matches, the tournament received approval from the Tour to change to a team format event, and debuted in 2017 with eighty teams of two players: one member of each team is initially chosen via the Tour priority rankings, and his partner must be either a PGA Tour member or earn entry through a sponsor exemption.
History: Tournament Names
• Zurich Classic of New Orleans (2005-21)
• 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
2019: Jon Rahm/Ryan Palmer (-22)
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)
Zurich Classic Defending Champions
At first glance the pairing seemed off: the fiery 24-year old top-ranked superstar from Spain, alongside the 42-year old laid back Texan, who hadn’t won in nearly 10 years.
Yet, as the sun was setting on TPC Louisiana, it was Jon Rahm, the young Spaniard, and Ryan Palmer, the veteran from Amarillo, Texas, who were standing (and hugging) in the winner’s circle, as champions of the 2019 Zurich Classic.
“To share a win with a partner you’ve been playing with, it’s both of our score, and know that we both played our best this week to be able to get it done, it’s something special,” said Rahm.
“To win as a team, it’s something you don’t get to feel very often in golf. I hope it happens again.”
Rahm and Palmer arrived for Sunday’s finale holding a share of the lead with Scott Stallings and Trey Mullinax, but following first-hole bogey by the latter, they took the solo lead and never relinquished it.
The winning duo offset a lone bogey with four birdies en route to a 69 to reach 26-under par, three strokes clear of Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood, who carded a 68 in the alternate shot format.
Final Top-5 Leaders
Pos-Team-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Rahm / Palmer -26 (-3)
2. Garcia / Fleetwood -23 (-4)
3. Lee / Every -21 (-4)
3. Gay / Sabbatini -21 (-1)
5. Power / Hearn -20 (-4)
5. Castro/ Tringale -20 (-4)
5. Kisner / Brown -20 (-3)
5. Lebioda / Luck -20 (-1)
The Field at the 2021 Zurich Classic
Team play is notoriously hard to predict, as evidenced by the three sets of winners here – which included just one player ranked inside the world top 50 at the time of victory: No. 11 Jon Rahm who teamed with Ryan Palmer (then ranked No. 70).
Rahm and Palmer return, and both are ranked much higher with the Spaniard now ranked No. 3, and the Texan up to No. 27.
The highest-credentialed team in the field this year is world No. 5 Xander Schauffele and No. 10 Patrick Cantlay. This duo has shown chemistry before, going 2-2-0 as a pairing for the American Team at the 2019 Presidents Cup.
Three more groups that also have potential – and figure to be among the biggest draws for the New Orleans golf fans, include Aussies Cameron Smith (No. 27) and Marc Leishman (37); Scottie Scheffler (No. 21) and Bubba Watson (60); and a pair of young stars in Collin Morikawa (No. 4) and Matthew Wolff (26).
A pair of European Ryder Cup vets in Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose are sure to be another popular duo to follow.
Finally, two more groups to keep an eye on: 2018 Zurich winner Billy Horschel, who won last month’s WGC Match Play event, will team up with Sam Burns this year; and a pair of 37-year-olds: Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner who are always in the hunt at TPC Louisiana, finishing in the top 15 in all three team editions.
Odds To Win the 2021 Zurich Classic
The defending champions, Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer, are co-favorites alongside the field’s top-ranked pair in Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Both teams are listed at 7/1. Aussies Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman were next at 10/1 with Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff at 12/1.
The teams of Bubba Watson-Scottie Scheffler and Tony Finau-Cameron Champ rounded out the top-5 betting favorites at 14/1. No other teams had odds under 20/1.
1. Rahm-Palmer (7/1)
1. Schauffele-Cantlay (7/1)
3. Smith-Leishman (10/1)
4. Morikawa-Wolff (12/1)
5. Watson-Scheffler (14/1)
5. Finau-Champ (14/1)
Zurich Classic | TPC Louisiana | New Orleans, LA | Apr 22-25, 2021
Carey Hoffman contributed to this report.
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images