Stewart Cink’s 2nd victory of the season was a wonderful reminder that golf isn’t solely the province of the bright young turks. The tour stays in the Deep South this week, moving to New Orleans for the sole PGA event held in Louisiana.
This event actually dates back 83 years, though it only switched to its now-established team format in 2017. This will be just the 4th renewal of the team incarnation (last season’s event was cancelled due to the Covid outbreak). This can be a notoriously difficult event to predict. Trying to calculate the odds of one player is hard enough (what with this hyper-competitive world of shifting green complexes and historical form). Trying to gauge the cohesion of two players is just doubly tricky.
The format is pretty basic to understand. There will be 80 pairs of players teeing it up in New Orleans this week. Days one and three will be fourballs (better ball). Days two and four will be alternate shot. In terms of the cut, the 35 best teams and ties will be allowed to feature on the weekend. I’m personally a much greater fan of alternate ball. Not only is it mercifully shorter, but it really puts an onus on team cooperation on every shot. The winning pair will receive 400 FedEx Cup points.
TPC Louisiana is really a typical Pete Dye design, with accuracy vital to avoid the bunkers and fiendish water hazards. Sharp dog-legs put an added premium on accuracy from the tee. The greens are average sized, fast Bermuda tracks. They are heavily undulating, putting much emphasis on touch around the greens. There are many risk-reward holes (which are perfect in these team-event affairs). Obviously the fourballs will allow for more experimentation, while alternate shot will require a degree of certainty from the tee.
There are actually quite a few world class players in this year’s field. Recent Masters meltdown artist Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay make for an eye-catching team. 2019 champions Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer enter this event in respectable relative form. They seem to dovetail well, with both embracing pretty aggressive styles. Cameron Smith and Mark Leishman make for a wonderful Aussie duo. I’m interested in assessing the progress of Matthew Wolff and Colin Morikawa. Great friends and college proteges, the pair are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of form. Morikawa is seemingly in contention every week while Wolff has had troubles dealing with the vagaries of post-Covid golf. Perhaps this reunion with his pal will help settle some of those tensions.
2020: no event
2019: Rahm/Palmer (-26)
2018: Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy (-22)
2017: Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith (-27) *playoff
To Win Outright
Sungjae Im and Byeong Hun An: To Win 45/1 | To Place 19/22
These guys must have the coolest compound name of all the groups: Im-and-An. Sungjae Im is coming off a brilliant 2020 where he captured his first title at the Honda Classic. This year has been extremely consistent for the South Korean, though he probably hasn’t troubled the lead as often as last. He has seven top 21 finishes this year, including a tie for 13th last week. An is a different proposition. He has been on a terrible run, missing his last four cuts. Things just haven’t looked right for An in recent times. But I’m hoping that Im can help reinvigorate his game this week. Furthermore, he lost in a playoff on this course in 2016.
Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown: To Win 50/1 | To Place 11/1
This is purely based on value. An event such as this always tends to feature a couple of rogue elements towards the top of the leaderboard. Kisner and Brown are both coming off a missed cut at the RBC Heritage. This pairing did however finish 5th when this event was last played in 2019. They are worth a small wager to win or at least a decent-sized place bet.
Team to Beat- Bubba Watson and Scottie Scheffler: To Win 12/1 | To Place 26/10
This one just screamed at me when I read the line-ups this week. Bubba Watson won this event when it was a single player stroke-play event in 2011. He was finished in 5th when it had become a team event in 2017. We all know just how well Bubba Watson can play on a course he enjoys. And then you have the younger upstart Scottie Scheffler. Scheffler is a recent runner-up on tour (finishing 2nd in the WGC Match-Play). He ranks 15th in SG: Total over the last three months. I like the combination of Watson’s experience and Scheffler’s form.