Tony Finau is among the PGA Tour players primed to take some unusual risks and big swings this week.
The tour is back in New Orleans with the Zurich Classic’s two-man team format being held for the first time since 2019.
While the second and final rounds call for players on each team to alternate shots, it’s a best-ball format in the first round Thursday and third round Saturday. That’s when spectators could see some of the world’s top-ranked players try to pull off some all-or-nothing shots.
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Finau is among the longer hitters on tour. So is his teammate, Cameron Champ.
“There’s no reason for me to hold back on certain holes where Cameron has got it out there in the middle of the fairway,” Finau said. “So, I’ll definitely crank up my ball speed on a few shots this week.”
Finau mentioned the 403-yard 13th hole specifically, which he called “a drivable par 4.”
“I can see myself letting it rip,” he said.
While heavy-hitting Bryson DeChambeau isn’t in the field, five players ranked in the world’s top 10 are. They include No. 5 Xander Schauffele and No. 10 Patrick Cantlay, who are on the same team.
They are friends who know one another’s game well.
“We play almost every week at least once and we figured it was a bit of a no-brainer,” said Schauffele, who tied for third at the Masters. “We usually are competing against each other week-to-week, especially in our little nine-hole matches. So, we know our games inside out. I think that will give us an advantage.”
The par-72, Pete Dye-designed TPC Louisiana course is 7,425 yards long and carved out of a cypress swamp just southwest of New Orleans. It’s an exotic-looking course with Spanish moss dangling from soaring, old-growth cypress trees whose unusual root system, known as cypress knees, sometimes protrude up through the fairway a couple yards from the base of the tree trunks. There’s also a large, semi-famous alligator — called Tripod because he’s missing a leg — who often makes appearances in the water lining the par-3 17th.
Tickets have been limited to 10,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the cancellation of the Zurich Classic in 2020. But the familiar garlic-and-butter aroma of charbroiled oysters — one of Finau’s favorite local dishes — again hangs in the air.
Those sights and smells bring comfort to Billy Horschel, the only player to have won here both in a traditional single-player format (2013) and in the team format (2018) that was adopted in 2017.
Horschel, who’d teamed up with Scott Piercy three years ago, tapped Louisiana native and former LSU player Sam Burns as his teammate this time.
“A native Louisiana guy on my team can only enhance my chances of hopefully winning this for a third time,” Horschel said. “He’s a really good putter. He drives it a long way.”
The defending champions are 44-year-old Texan Ryan Palmer and 26-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm, a seemingly odd pairing from different continents and generations who won by three strokes in 2019.
Rahm arrives in Louisiana without a win this season, but with one second-place — and a tie for fifth at the Masters — among eight top-10 finishes that have earned him a No. 3 world ranking.
“One of the reasons why the partnership worked so well is because we play a similar game,” Rahm said, noting that both players like to hit fades. “It’s a ball-striker’s golf course. … It should suit our strengths very well.”
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The Zurich also offers players a chance to bolster their credentials for the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, major international team tournaments held on alternate years. The Ryder Cup, pitting a U.S. team against a European one, is scheduled for late September.
“This is definitely another week where we have the opportunity to shine in front of our (Ryder Cup) captain and the co-captains,” Finau said, referring to U.S. captain Steve Stricker and vice captains Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Davis Love III. “Who knows? You could be looking at a team that is representing the U.S. in the Ryder Cup later this fall.”