Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Yards: 7,425 as per the scorecard
Par: 72 (36-36)
Greens: Mini-verde Bermudagrass; 5,700 square feet on average
Rough: TifSport Bermudagrass at 2 inches
Water Hazards: 5
Course Architect: Pete Dye (2003)
Winner’s Share: $1,188,000
FexExCup Points: 500 to the winner
Defending Champion: Jason Dufner defeated Ernie Els on the second playoff hole to win for the first time on TOUR.
Dates: April 25-28
Notes: The TPC Louisiana has been used for this tournament in 2005 and 2007 through last year. Any other historical data will not carry weight with me this week.
The TOUR makes its annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for the 54th time.
In seven events at TPC Louisiana, there have been FOUR first-time winners. Tim Petrovic (2005), Nick Wantey (2007), Andres Romero (2008) and Jason Dufner last year all have broken their duck in The Big Easy.
The winners on TOUR this season have been Johnson (28), Henley (24), Gay (41), Woods THRICE (37), Mickelson (42), Snedeker (32), Merrick (30) Kuchar (34),Thompson, M (27) Brown (29), Streelman (34), Points (36), Laird (30), Scott (32) and now G-Mac (33).
The young folks (30 and younger) have six victories; the 30-somethings now have nine victories, and the “old folks” (40 and up) have their two wins.
After winning the first 14 tournaments of the season, the last three have all been internationals. Since moving to TPC Louisiana in 2006, only Andres Romero has a victory for the international contingent.
Joining Romero in this year’s field are former champions Nick Watney (2007), Jerry Kelly (2009), Bubba Watson (2011) and Jason Dufner (2012). 2005 champion Tim Petrovic is on the alternate’s list.
Rank and File
As of Monday morning, just 13 of the top 50 in the OWGR are playing this week. #topheavy
TPC Louisiana was ranked the 39th-easiest of the 49 courses used in 2012 on TOUR. That’s not terribly surprising as Jason Dufner and Ernie Els both posted 19-under 269 and THREE players posted rounds of 64 last year, tying the course record. Greg Chalmers and Russell Knox went low in round two while Ryan Palmer tied their mark on Saturday. Over the last seven events, TPC Louisiana has been in the middle of the rankings on the most difficult courses each year. The toughest year it played, not surprisingly, was its inaugural event in 2005 when it ranked 20th most difficult of the 55 courses used that year.
Pete Dye courses are all the same but yet different. Dye tries to fool or trick the player into seeing things that might or might not be there based on the topography of the land. TPC Louisiana is defended by trees, sand, water and undulating greens. Players will face risk-reward shots and will have to avoid the water coming home. Looking at the number of first-time winners in this event tells me that experience is NOT a huge factor around this track.
This week, I’m looking for iron players to take me to the winner’s circle. The rough is only playing to two inches off the fairway so hit it as far you can and have a short iron in your hands to peg as many GIR as possible. With all the first-time winners here, that tells me that the green complexes are not that difficult to figure out. Want more proof? Dufner and Els aren’t exactly the first two names that jump to the top of your head when I say “great putters”. Neither is Bubba Watson. The more greens you hit, the more chances for birdies and with the average winning score around 15-under, plenty of those will help as well. I am not dismissing great putters/short gamers this week but they will have to be able to score as well as birdies will be the order of the day.
Let’s see who makes the cut!
Top 10, Plus One
Justin Rose: He’s 21st in ball-striking and second in scoring. He’s a premium player who hasn’t finished out of the top 25 in five events this season. He destroys par-fives and can really scramble. He opened with 72 here last year before racking up 67-68-68 on the weekend. I believe he’s figured it out.
Bubba Watson: He’s hit the top five twice, including his 2011 win, in six starts here in New Orleans. His only finish outside of the top 18 this season was last week at the Masters. That’s quite understandable and I feel that Watson will be more than happy not to be the center of attention this week. He’ll enjoy bombing away and is fifth in birdie average. He also leads the TOUR in par four birdie percentage and is 12th in birdie-or-better conversions.
Keegan Bradley: He’s made 10 of 11 cuts this season and the only thing that is missing from his 2013 CV is a victory. Before his Saturday 82 at Augusta, he had finishes of T4, seventh, T3 and T10 so he’s close. He’s another player who feasts on par fives as he’s 67-under (third on TOUR) this season.
Billy Horschel: Last week proved, again, that Horschel is cut from a different cloth. Early in the week, he Tweeted that he was making an emergency trip to see his swing coach Todd Anderson. THAT’S ALWAYS A GOOD THING ON TOURNAMENT WEEK. According to Horschel’s Twitter, Anderson fixed his grip and lo and behold, ANOTHER top 10 for him on a course that isn’t for rookies. That’s three in a row if you’re scoring at home. I have lost count of how many cuts in a row he has made. Automatic.
Rickie Fowler: He’s getting better each year TOUR and each year in New Orleans. He was T26 in 2011 and T10 last year as played all four rounds under par. He’s ninth on TOUR in birdie-or-better conversion percentage and his short game is lights out.
Freddie Jacobson: He’s made seven cuts on the bounce. He’s hit the top 25 in all of them, including the Masters. He’s eighth in strokes gained-putting and seventh in scoring. I’m going to stop typing now.
Jason Dufner: The 2012 champ’s history around here is staggeringly good but his play in 2013 has been staggeringly indifferent and that’s bad news for gamers. We like predictability! He only has three rounds of his last 14 in the 60s and has zero top 10s. I’m hoping he remembers where he is at when he tees it up on Thursday as he’s not been out of the top 10 in his last four starts at TPC Louisiana.
Brendon de Jonge: I cannot ignore his last three events where he’s finished T10, T22 and T9 last week at RBC. de Jonge plays EVERY week (minus the majors) and this is start No. 14 on the season. He’s cashed in 11 of the previous 13 and six of those have been within the top 25. He finished T26 and T18 the last two times around TPC Louisiana so he’s trending in the proper direction.
Charley Hoffman: He was positioned to win last week at RBC as he entered the final round with a two shot lead but he “Rickie Fowler’ed” it on Sunday firing 77 to finish T6. Hoffman now has finishes of T6, T3 and T20 in his last three outings and cannot be omitted this week. He’s made four cuts in a row here as well but it’s his current form that is trump for me this week.
Ryan Palmer: One of three players to tie the course record last year, this course sets up great for Palmer. He hits it a mile and hits plenty of GIR so he’ll have his chances this week. His two best finishes of the year were Humana (T6) and WMPO (T5) in tournaments where many birds are necessary. Nice fit this week.
Jimmy Walker: He’s second on TOUR with 19 consecutive cuts, including 10 in a row to start 2013. He kills it off the tee, hits plenty of GIR and is a slick putter. He’s in the top 10 in too many categories to list here. His work with Butch Harman has produced everything except the elusive victory. He closed the weekend here last year 68-68.