ZURICH CLASSIC: The PGA Tour’s only official team event gets underway on Thursday from America’s most unique city, the Big Easy, and the good news for everyone in the field is that Scottie Scheffler isn’t playing. The Scheff has been cooking, with 4 victories in his last 5 starts and now a tartan plaid jacket to go along with the green one, and despite the presence of big names like McIlroy, Schauffele, Cantlay, and Morikawa on the tee sheet this week, an event that’s missing the icy Texan sort of feels like the B-team right now, much in the same way that tournaments without Tiger in his heyday felt like consolation contests. But I digress…

This event was fading from relevance before switching to the current team format in 2017 and has been on the rise ever since, with a host of top players who would’ve never played in this tournament pre-2017 now joining up to form compelling teams. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, for instance, who happen to be friends since the junior golf days (I know… I was also surprised to learn that Cantlay had friends), have had a successful partnership here which culminated in a victory in 2022, and they have returned to top BETDAQ’s market at 5.8. Sitting right behind them is the team of Rory McIlroy/Shane Lowry (9.7), Irishmen who have played loads of golf together, and then there’s the Zalatoris/Theegala (9.8) pairing that we might as well call Team Stripe Show, and the Brothers Fitzpatrick (32.0), the Brothers Hojgaard (30.0), the brothers Coody (140.0) (twins, no less!), plus several pairings of college teammates, countrymen, and off-course buds. It all contributes to a relaxed and fun atmosphere that fits perfectly with the host city and surrounding vibe.

The format is best ball (fourball) in rounds 1 and 3 and the more difficult alternate shot (foursomes) in rounds 2 and 4. The host course will once again be TPC Louisiana, a Pete Dye design that is fairly friendly by Tour standards, with ample space off the tee and not as much severity around the greens as you normally expect from a Dye track. At 7,425 yards, it’s plenty long and it generally plays pretty soft, so length off the tee is a definite advantage, and the tee-to-green Bermuda should eliminate a few teams from consideration. The players generally tear TPC Louisiana apart, so we can expect another winning score in the 25 to 30-under range. You’d better bring your birdies this week.

With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:

WIN MARKET

Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Horschel/Alexander (42.0)- While most of the golf world was focused on Scottie Scheffler dusting another field at Harbour Town, Billy Horschel was busy snapping a 2-year winless drought with a victory at the opposite-field Corales Puntacana Championship, where he fired a 9-under 63 on Sunday to win by 2. It was the eighth victory of Horschel’s PGA Tour career, and the first one came back in 2013 right here at the Zurich, before it was a team event. The man they call Billy Ho has continued his run of success here since the format change, winning again in 2018 with partner Scott Piercy, finishing 4th in 2021 with Sam Burns, and runner-up in 2022 with Burns again. Clearly, Billy Ho knows how to make some birdies around TPC Louisiana. His partner this week is Tyson Alexander, his former teammate at Florida who is in his second full season on Tour. While less accomplished than Horschel, Alexander has been playing pretty well in his own right, making his last 3 cuts and finishing T14 at the Texas Open the week before the Masters. We’ve seen lesser-known players emerge in this event before, buoyed by their more experienced partners, and I’m sure these guys are hoping to ride that dynamic to success. This is a team to watch and a nice value at better than 40/1.

Moore/NeSmith (60.0)- These two are the consummate example of off-course buds who have great chemistry together and seem to bring out the most in each other’s games. They’ve teamed up to finish 4th here in each of the last two years, shooting a combined 49-under in the process. Last year they led through three rounds before being caught by the Hardy/Riley team’s impressive alternate shot 65, and this year Taylor Moore in particular is in much better form, finding the top-20 in 3 of his past 4 starts and finishing runner-up at the Houston Open. Matthew NeSmith did make the cut in Puntacana last week, so it’s not like he’s lost out there, and as mentioned these two seem to bring out the best in each other, so I expect the same birdie barrage that NeSmith usually produces at TPC Louisiana. At a price like 60.0, I’m happy to take a chance on a team that always seems to be around the lead at this tournament.

Rai/Lipsky (130.0) While we’re admittedly throwing darts when we get up to prices like this in a team event, the Rai/Lipsky pairing stands out to me among those with triple-digit odds, only because, like Taylor Moore and Matthew NeSmith, they have enjoyed a very successful partnership here for the past two years, finishing T13 last year and T4 in 2022. These two are very similar to the Hardy/Riley team that got the job done last year– strivers whose careers are still on the upswing, and who probably get that little extra jolt of confidence from having their friend and partner sharing the burden beside them. Maybe that’s reading too much into it… maybe these guys just like TPC Louisiana. Either way, they’re worth a shot at 130.0, especially when Rai is only two starts removed from a top-10 in Houston.


DAQMAN Mon: Yarmouth NAP
DAQSTATS Mon: Yarmouth NAP
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