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On the Tee: Zurich Classic of New Orleans

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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With 16 inches of rain in April, TPC Louisiana's greens should be receptive to approach shots. (Getty Images)  
With 16 inches of rain in April, TPC Louisiana's greens should be receptive to approach shots. (Getty Images)  

Everything you need to know about the Zurich Classic of New Orleans:

Nuts and bolts

Tee times | Hole by hole | Past champions

Defending the throne

It's not often an unpopular penalty assessment overshadows an entire golf tournament, but at last year's New Orleans event, the final group on the course not only featured the winner and runner-up, but a slew of extra, Cajun-style spice.

Locked in a tie with eventual winner Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson stood over a short tap-in on the 15th green when the ball moved almost imperceptibly at address. Simpson backed away and immediately summoned a rules official.

You know the rest. We've seen it all before and liked it not a bit.

As has happened myriad times over the years, even though Simpson never touched the ball, he was assessed a one-shot penalty under the rules and eventually lost to Watson in a playoff. Pundits yelped that Simpson, who finished second to Luke Donald in 2011 earnings, had been deprived of a chance to win in regulation by one of the cruelest rules in the game.

Through no fault of his own. He never touched the ball. The punishment didn't remotely match the non-existent offense.

For once, somebody was listening.

Watson went on to win this year's Masters, though Simpson also chalked up a major personal victory afterward. Thanks to a major rules overhaul announced last fall, as of Jan. 1 of this year, players no longer will be penalized if the ball moves after the address, provided "it is known or virtually certain that he did not cause the ball to move."

So while Watson won the title, Simpson took a bullet for the entire sport, and in some circles, it's been called the Webb Simpson Rule.

Both Watson and Simpson, who partnered at the Presidents Cup, are in the field again this week.

Venue and you

Hall of Famer Pete Dye is often regarded as the master of the modern design, but the TPC Louisiana isn't celebrated as one of his best by the tour rank and file. In a poll of players, it finished 45th out of 52 courses that were evaluated, just a few ticks ahead of last week's critically panned TPC venue in San Antonio. But at least the venues are open to public play for those who want to play on a tour track. Midday tee times at the Avondale, La., course run in the $189 range.

Track and field

A week after the weakest field on tour was assembled this year in San Antonio, many of the big boys have emerged from hibernation outside New Orleans, and it isn't just for the food. The field has perked up nicely since last year, increasing from 12 to 18 players from the world top 50. For the second year in succession, the event has landed four players from the world top 10. Is it the course? Hardly. Zurich last year signed deals with several top players to do charitable outings, and miraculously, most of them showed up to play, including Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Rickie Fowler. All are here this week too.

Three whacks from short range

 Following up on the field-strength note above, it's becoming increasingly clear middle-tier tournaments hoping to land top-tier players have availed themselves of a developing option -- by dangling personal-service contracts. Two weeks after RBC secured a slew of top-50 players for Hilton Head by signing players to endorsement deals, Zurich has again taken a similar tack by signing players to other private deals. Of course, the European Tour is laughing uproariously at this, because overseas, this would simply be considered an appearance fee and no smoke and mirrors would be required.

 Keep an eye on Peter Hanson, the mega-hot Swede who played in the final group at the Masters and already has logged two top-5 finishes at World Golf Championships events this spring. Hanson has joined the PGA Tour and is seeking to join a list of international winners in NOLA that includes former world No. 1s Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam and Lee Westwood. Hanson, by the way, has jumped to No. 24 in the world.

 Back from a fortnight off, Masters champion and world No. 4 Bubba Watson not only is the biggest story in this week's NOLA field, he is the defending champ. Watson ranks first on the PGA Tour in driving distance (313.1 yards) and greens in regulation (73.6 percent), which might sound familiar to the folks who watched him win in New Orleans last year. In this particular event, he ranked first for the week in both driving distance (331.4) and GIR (80.6). New Orleans marked the only time in five career tries that Watson held the 54-hole lead and eventually won.

Odds and evens

Odds on winning, via Golfodds.com and the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino:

Luke Donald, 12/1; Bubba Watson, 12/1; Justin Rose, 15/1; Keegan Bradley, 20/1; Steve Stricker, 20/1; Webb Simpson, 25/1; Jason Dufner, 25/1; Nick Watney, 30/1; Graeme McDowell, 30/1; Carl Pettersson, 30/1; Charles Howell III, 30/1; Bud Cauley, 30/1; Ernie Els, 40/1; Peter Hanson, 40/1; Cameron Tringale, 40/1; John Senden, 40/1.

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