Readers of a certain age may recall Monty Python and a film that was based on the TV sketch show called “Now For Something Completely Different”. Who would have thought all these years later that a golf tournament on the PGA Tour could be described using that catch phrase? Well this week’s Zurich Classic is completely different because this year it has become a pair’s tournament rather than every man for himself.
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson are the team to beat at TPC of Louisiana which has hosted the conventional Zurich Classic since being designed specifically for the event in 2005. The tournament moved in 2006 due to hurricane damage but has been played on the same course every year since. The event is one of the oldest on tour so the new format is a radical move and definitely unique! Whether it catches on is questionable.
The TPC of Louisiana was created by Pete Dye, one of the best designers in world golf, and is intended to be similar to Sawgrass which stages the Players Championship. The course presents a good, all-round test. Certainly the big hitters don’t dominate on a course that is over 7,400 yards in length. The Bermuda greens are below average in size and approaches involve avoiding vast areas of fairway bunkers and more than 70 pot bunkers, some of which guard lay-up areas as well as greens.
In benign conditions the course is vulnerable so pin positions are used to protect scores. Solid ball striking, finding fairways and greens and staying out of sand are the key skills for good scoring. Weather conditions can have an impact on the event. Form from other courses is of limited value but there is now more than a decade of course form to assess so there is plenty of evidence of the type of players suited to the course and weather conditions. The layout puts a premium on accuracy over distance.
However, its debatable whether individual course form will be translated into the team format. Its much more about chemistry and being comfortable in the company of a team mate. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson famously did not gel in the Ryder Cup so players must like their colleague enough to want him to do well and not steal the limelight in fundamentally a selfish sport. Rose and Stenson have that affinity. The former is a good companion on the course and seems well liked by his peers and the latter is the current British Open champion.
In an attempt to create some excitement the 69th renewal of the Zurich Classic involves 80 teams of two players. The field consists of 160 players based on rankings with most partnerships determined by eligibility ranking but some sponsors invitations are added to the mix. The first and third rounds will be alternate shots and second and final rounds will be played in the best ball format. These variations equate to foursomes and fourballs in the Ryder Cup and other team competitions.
Rose and Stenson have a great deal of experience playing as a pair in the Ryder Cup and clearly compliment each other in personality and game. The combination is the only one in the field that brings together two major champions. Rose won the Gold Medal at the Olympics in Rio and Stenson finished second so both players are proven at the highest level. Rose won the US Open in 2013 and almost won the Masters this year, beaten by Sergio Garcia in a playoff. Stenson produced one of the best final rounds in major championship history to win the Open last year.
The favourites for the event are Jason Day and Rickie Fowler who have the lowest combined world ranking. They are at number 3 and 9 in the standings while Rose and Stenson are statistically currently the 8th and 6th best players in the world. Hideki Matsuyama at number 4 is the best ranked player in the field but his partner is Hideto Tanihara who is at number 50. However, national pride may see the first and third best players from Japan contend and make the payout places.
The Japanese team are about the best for combined strengths in the context of the demands of the course. However, Rose and Stenson’s experience of team golf should see them prevail in an experiment that could become more common or have a life cut short…just like the dead parrott!
Back next Thursday.