The weekly event on the PGA Tour will be presented in a non-traditional manner for the second time in a month. The Zurich Classic, however, is even more unique than last month's WGC-Dell Match Play as golfers will be paired up this week and play two rounds of best-ball and two rounds of alternate shot to determine a champion. There has not been a winner of this event in nearly two years as the COVID-19 pandemic wiped the week out completely in 2020 following a win from Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer back in 2019.
Let's take a closer look at this week's contest with odds provided via William Hill Sportsbook.
Event: Zurich Classic | Date: April 22-25
Location: TPC Louisiana -- Avondale, Louisiana
Three things to know
1. Weekend format: By now, most folks are used to the best-ball and alternate-shot formats from years and years of Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup competitions. However, if you're unfamiliar, best ball simply means that both golfers on a team play an entire hole, and your team's score is the best score of those two players. So if Collin Morikawa makes birdie at the first and Matthew Wolff makes double, the Morikawa-Wolff team gets a birdie for their score. Alternate shot is just that -- Morikawa hits the first shot, and Wolff has to hit from wherever that shot lands. Your team's score is whatever you cobble together on a given hole, which makes it much more difficult than best ball. There has been debate about which format should be used on Sunday with the tournament in the balance. The decision this year is to use alternate shot, which probably creates more volatility than best ball, but also makes it difficult to rocket up the leaderboard for teams that are trailing by a lot going into Round 4.
2. Ryder Cup foreshadowing: We (I) love to overplay the Ryder Cup theme about four months too early, but there are definitely some interesting teams this week that could also be teams at Whistling Straits in September. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele played together at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in December 2019, and both will likely be on the Ryder Cup team in September. Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa are less likely to both be on the team -- Morikawa is a lock, but Wolff has struggled of late -- but it's certainly fun to think about what they could do together at future team events. On the European side, Ryder Cup lions Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose will play together as will past and present Ryder Cuppers Danny Willett and Tyrrell Hatton. It's likely that only one or two of these teams will end up playing together later on this year, and I can't think that either team's captain will take a ton away from this week, but it's still a fun mini-storyline.
3. Fascinating teams: There are several "wait ... what?" pairings this week. At the top of the list is Scott Piercy and Akshay Bhatia. The former is a 42-year-old journeyman while the latter is a 19-year-old potential superstar who has played just three events this year. I'm curious how they even know each other, but even more so how they teamed up. Other fun ones include Kristoffer Venture and Viktor Hovland (former Oklahoma State teammates from Norway), Doug Ghim and Justin Suh (college superstars), Sungjae Im and Ben An (Presidents Cup teammates), Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan (once contended for the FedEx Cup!) and Woody Austin and Rocco Mediate (combined age: 115).
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Grading the field
The field this week is not bad. It's not amazing, either. Though, to be fair, most fields between the Masters and PGA Championship are not amazing, but there's intrigue around Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Smith, Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler as well as enough intriguing sub-stories to engender overall interest in this event. Grade: C+
Zurich Classic picks
Winners: Collin Morikawa-Matthew Wolff (16-1) -- Wolff has clearly been struggling, and his body language at Augusta National was abysmal. However, I think his biggest issues right now are discomfort with the nuances of life as a professional. He's so gregarious and so extroverted that I think he'll actually thrive as part of a team once again alongside the guy who has been the best of anyone in this field from tee to green over the last three months.
Top 10: Cameron Smith-Marc Leishman (12-1 to win) -- You could make a decent case that this duo should be the favorite to win this tournament with how well they both played at the Masters a few weeks ago and how scorching Smith has been overall (top 20 at his last five stroke-play events). Smith has a victory here before (alongside Jonas Blixt), and there are real question marks with the two teams with shorter odds (Jon Rahm-Ryan Palmer, Xander Schauffele-Patrick Cantlay).
Sleepers: Doug Ghim-Justin Suh (50-1) -- I'm enamored with this duo because they were both so elite in college, and they have both been coming on a little bit over the last few months. The pedigrees are there, the talent is there, the momentum is there and there is a scenario where they match all that up and play their best golf of the year together.