The PGA Tour will take on a different look this week as players head to TPC Louisiana for the Zurich Classic. For those of you who do not religiously follow all things golf, you may be unaware of this week’s format. Let me explain.
The Zurich Classic was revamped after the 2016 tournament. Starting in 2017, the event officially turned into a team-event, meaning in order to participate, a player must pair up with another player. The two-man teams play a combination of best-ball and alternate shot. If those sound foreign to you, they are the same formats played the first couple days of the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup; however, they are called Four-ball and Foursomes. In total, 160 players (80 teams) will tee it up, with the top-33 (and ties) teams making the cut.
The order of the playing formats has changed throughout the years. They have settled on best-ball being played in Rounds 1 and 3 and alternate shot taking place in Rounds 2 and 4. Best-ball presents the best opportunity for teams to go low and potentially post a sub-60 number. Alternate shot, while more difficult, may very well be the difference this week and even more so when it comes to these head-to-head matchups.
Head-to-Head Matchups (Odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)
Surprisingly, the two Australians didn’t play a single match together in the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. Captain Ernie Els had Leishman play mentor and instead paired him with the likes of Sungjae Im, Abraham Ancer, and Haotong Li. But trust me when I say these two have played plenty of golf together and should thrive in this format.
Smith won the inaugural event in 2017 alongside Jonas Blixt and while Leishman struggled in best-ball at Royal Melbourne, he went 1-0-1 in alternate shot. Both of these players can make birdies in bunches, but it's the alternate shot format where I think they will separate themselves in this matchup. Combine Leishman’s steady iron play with Smith’s unworldly short game and these two shouldn’t find much trouble when playing the more difficult format in Rounds 2 and 4.
Morikawa and Wolff will need to make their hay in best-ball and hold on for dear life in alternate shot. I expect this duo to make plenty of birdies, but also make plenty of mistakes. Wolff is in the midst of a major slump where he has been unable to find the face of the planet off the tee and his typical struggles from around the greens have continued. Morikawa, while arguably the best iron player in the world, looked uncomfortable on the greens last week at Harbour Town. That’s not a combination I love and will instead side with the steadier Australians in this one.
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Hovland and Ventura may very well be my favorite team of the week. Former junior golf competitors turned college teammates; this duo has played plenty of golf together dating back to their childhoods in Norway. Their long friendship is only part of the reason that I love the Oklahoma State alumni.
We’ve grown accustomed to Hovland’s solid ball-striking and electric smile. Some of us may be unfamiliar with Ventura, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a gamer in his own right. Ventura’s strengths are two-fold, long irons and putting. Ventura’s putter has the ability to bail these two out if they get into trouble in alternate shot, but it’s his competence with the long irons that has me excited. Whether it’s the par 3’s, which all measure over 200 yards, or second shots into par 5’s, long irons will be vital this week and that plays right into these two’s hands.
This is not so much a fade of Frittelli and Streelman, but more so a testament to how much I love Hovland and Ventura. Frittelli and Streelman just happen to be on the other side of the matchup. In these team events, it’s rare to win without at least one seriously good putter. This team simply does not have that. While their games do complement each other, I think the Norwegians will be too much to overcome.
I always like to target at least one plus money matchup. It is of my opinion, that outside of the top favorites, Gooch and Homa are the most complete team. Both are extremely proficient iron players and that should bode well for them in both formats. They’ll make plenty of birdies in best-ball and I would not be surprised if they shoot a couple of rounds in the mid-60's in alternate shot.
If I had to describe the team of Champ and Finau, they are the shiny car in the dealership window. You see the names next to each other, understand that both can hit it a mile, and that may be enough to draw you in. In essence, they possess plenty of horsepower, but I'm not buying it. Both players have been struggling as of late and despite Champ and Finau having solid performances at The Masters, their inconsistent play is still a red flag.
They do have some experience together as they teamed up for the QBE Shootout not too long ago and finished T-5 out of 12 teams. That looks good on paper, but most of the damage was done in Round 1, which was a scramble format. They won’t have that luxury this week and that could pose as an issue, especially on the greens, where both of them tend to struggle.
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