In maybe the hardest event to get a handle on of any tournament played on the PGA Tour, a bunched-up leaderboard has started to form at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. A pair of former college teammates at Oklahoma State -- Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura -- co-lead after shooting a 10-under 62 in the best-ball format during Round 1.
They're tied with the Brice Garnett-Scott Stallings team, which made a frenetic late charge Thursday with eight birdies in their last 11 holes.
There are over 10 teams within two of that 10-under number, and Round 2 on Friday will be much tougher as the format switches to alternate shot. Can former Cowboys Ventura and Hovland, surge ahead of Garnett and Stallings, or will they all be run down by the Tony Finau-Cameron Champ or Xander Schauffele-Patrick Cantlay teams? Let's take a look at the top teams on this board and what Friday will mean for the weekend.
T1. Kris Ventura-Viktor Hovland, Brice Garnett-Scott Stallings (-10): With the 62 in Round 1, they're right in the range of what former champions have shot in the first round of best ball. Since this tournament moved to a team event in 2017, the opening best-ball scores by the eventual winners have been 62, 64 and 65. Just like a normal stroke-play event, there's a lot of work to do over the next three days, but Ventura and Hovland are clearly comfortable playing together. They were on the OSU team that won the national championship in 2018 and have played for Norway's national team for years.
"I think just the mindset overall is just that we know each other pretty well and we're comfortable around each other, so it was going to be a fun day no matter what," said Ventura after the 62. "Obviously, we played well today, but it's always fun to play together, and we don't get to do that very often in a tournament especially. It definitely brings back some memories to national teams in Norway and college golf for sure."
If Ventura keeps clicking like he did on Thursday when he made seven of their 10 birdies, they'll likely stay at the top of this board until Sunday evening.
T3. Tony Finau-Cameron Champ, Billy Horschel-Sam Burns, Keegan Bradley-Brendan Steele, K.H. Lee-Kyle Stanley, Mark Hubbard-Sebastian Cappelen, Louis Oosthuizen-Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman-Cameron Smith (-9): The biggest name here is probably the monstrous-hitting duo of Champ and Finau. I think there's maybe a bit more concern with them when it comes to alternate shot because Champ is not as well-rounded -- especially with his short game -- as Finau is, but then again they might go out and shoot another 63 on Saturday in best-ball and not need a ton from the alternate-shot days. Leishman and Smith have replaced Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer as the favorites to win this week after their 63 in Round 1.
T10. Xander Schauffele-Patrick Cantlay, Bubba Watson-Scottie Scheffler, Charley Hoffman-Nick Watney, Tyler Duncan-Adam Schenk, Roger Sloan-Aaron Baddeley (-8): That's a lot of players at 8 under, but one sticks out above the rest. Though Cantlay was not playing very well coming in, he split the birdie total with Schauffele (both made four) as they dropped a little 30 on their back nine (front nine on the course) on Thursday. There's an argument to be made that they are the two players with the fewest holes of anyone in the world, and that will particularly come in handy on Friday when they turn to alternate shot (where they went 2-0 at the 2019 Presidents Cup).
"I think that's kind of why we're playing this week," Cantlay said. "We had such a good connection and energy and vibe from the Presidents Cup that we figure with this format we might as well try and bring it over here."
T15. Ryan Palmer-Jon Rahm (-7): The champs from two years ago got off to a so-so start before cleaning it up on the back and shooting a number they needed to shoot to get in the mix. Rahm was not quite as sharp as normal -- which was not unexpected after the birth of his baby a month ago -- but Palmer was steady when they needed him to be and cleaned up most of the pars they made while Rahm made three birdies in his last eight holes.