Let’s be honest, there’s been a bit of a post-Masters lull in the golf world over the past couple of weeks.
However, this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans promises to stop the rot – and for a variety of reasons. One: ten of the world’s top 14 players are in action. Two: it’s a team format. Three: players will be introduced onto the tee with walk-on music.
Last year was the first time the tournament adopted a team strokeplay format, with foursomes in the first and third rounds and fourball better ball in the second and fourth rounds.
The only downside for the players to the new format? The winners don’t receive Masters invites and no world rankings points are awarded.
Now that we’ve covered all that, here are the five teams you need to watch out for this week:
Last year’s missed cut was surely just an off-week for the Olympic medal-winning, Ryder Cup partnership of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. The duo failed to make it to the weekend by a solitary stroke at TPC of Louisiana last year but Rose was a winner here in the strokeplay event in 2015, while Stenson is entering the event in great form with three top sixes in a row, including his best-ever finish at the Masters in his most recent start.
Another pairing making their return for 2018, Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer fared considerably better than the aforementioned Rose and Stenson last time out. They finished 22-under-par and fourth – five shots behind eventual champions Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt. We all remember the magic Spieth produced in the final round of the Masters three weeks ago, while Palmer has had a mixed year so far, with four missed cuts in nine events but also a play-off loss at the Farmers Insurance Open.
You can’t overestimate the importance of a good team dynamic and Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley certainly have that. The former roommates and University of Alabama alumni finished T5 last year and, while Thomas has been the hottest player in world golf over the past 18 months, Cauley has put in some solid performances of late, finishing T14-T18-T23 in his three most recent starts. Cauley is still searching for his first PGA Tour win… don’t be surprised if it comes this week.
Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly might have a combined age of over 100, but don’t let that make you think they won’t be a factor this week. Stricker has two wins on the Champions Tour in four starts, while Kelly won on the tour back in January and has finished T8-T5 in his past two events – the latter of which was in partnership with Stricker at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge. The duo also finished T14 in this event last year.
After tours of New York City and a visit to an NBA game wearing the Green Jacket, Patrick Reed makes his first start since his Augusta triumph this week. Will there be a Masters hangover? We’ll soon find out. He tees up in the company of Patrick Cantlay, who closed with back-to-back 68s to finish T7 at the RBC Heritage two weeks ago. The two teamed-up here last year, finishing T14.