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It took almost two years, but Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer can finally begin their title defense when the 2021 Zurich Classic of New Orleans tees off on Thursday. The only official team event on the PGA Tour schedule was canceled last year, and this will be the fourth time it will be played since the format change in 2017. Palmer and Rahm, the world's third-ranked player, went 26 under to win by three strokes over Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood in 2019 in the combined best-ball and alternate-shot format at TPC Louisiana. 

Rahm and Palmer are the 15-2 favorite to repeat as champions in the latest 2021 Zurich Classic odds from William Hill Sportsbook. Five of the top 10 golfers in the world are playing, with the pairing of No. 5 Xander Schauffele and No. 10 Patrick Cantlay listed at 8-1, fourth-ranked Collin Morikawa paired with Matthew Wolff (14-1), and No. 8 Tyrrell Hatton teaming with Danny Willett (25-1). Before finalizing any 2021 Zurich Classic picks or golf predictions, you need to see who Sal Johnson is backing

A media legend and consummate golf insider, Johnson has a strong feel for what it takes to win on the PGA Tour.

Before Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters two weeks ago, Johnson made special mention of Jordan Spieth, Schauffele and Will Zalatoris as golfers to watch.

He listed Spieth and Schauffele in his top three contenders and had Zalatoris as his top rookie. Zalatoris nearly caught Matsuyama and finished as runner-up, while Spieth and Schauffele tied for third.

The golf expert knows these players and how they fit the courses. At the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, he pegged Bryson DeChambeau as his top choice to win before his second victory of the year.

He also knows when surging players are poised for a breakthrough. He tabbed Sungjae Im as a top contender before his first Tour win at the Honda Classic last season before touting Tyrrell Hatton to get his first tour victory the following week. Anyone who has followed Johnson's advice has cashed in huge.

Now Johnson, the first producer of "Inside the PGA Tour," a longtime ABC Sports golf producer who worked with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman, and the founder of the world's top golf stats database, has released his highly confident 2021 RBC Heritage picks, and they will surprise you. You can only see them here.

Top 2021 Zurich Classic expert picks

Shockingly, the golf expert is fading the pairing of Schauffele and Cantlay, which comes in as the second favorite. On paper, it appears to be an unstoppable team, with both ranking in the top 10 in the world. But Schauffele's blunder that might have cost him the Masters and Cantlay's sudden and surprising string of missed cuts are red flags. Johnson is heeding those warnings and will go in another direction this week, with several other dynamic duos to choose from in the 2021 Zurich Classic field.

On the other hand, the golf expert knows a lot of eyes will be glued to the pairing of Morikawa and Wolff. They are two of the game's top young stars, and Morikawa has already made plenty of noise. The 24-year-old is the reigning PGA Championship winner and ranks fourth in the world, and he won the WGC event at The Concession in February for his fourth career victory. Wolff has one win since turning pro in 2019, but a lot is expected of the 22-year-old who won the 2019 NCAA individual title with Oklahoma State. They played junior golf together in California.       

Johnson knows chemistry plays a big role in team events, and Australians Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman have more than their nationality in common. Both players come in off top-10 finishes, with Leishman tying for fifth at the Masters and Smith tying for 10th before a T-9 at the RBC Heritage. They rank 80th and 81st on tour in greens in regulation, with Smith ranked higher, and they are 132nd and 133rd driving accuracy, with the edge to Leishman. Smith won this event in 2017 paired with Jonas Blixt, and they can both get hot on and around the greens.   

How to make 2021 Zurich Classic predictions

This week, Johnson says you should keep an eye on a long-shot pairing that is listed higher than 25-1. This team is made up of golfers whose skills should work together seamlessly, and both players have seen some success in the past couple of months. You can only see who it is here.

Who wins the Zurich Classic 2021? Where do Morikawa and Wolff and Smith and Leishman finish? And which long shot team is a must-back? Check out the odds below, then visit SportsLine to see Sal Johnson's full leaderboard, picks and analysis, all from the insider who has nailed his golf picks. 

2021 Zurich Classic odds 

J Rahm/R Palmer 15-2
X Schauffele/P Cantlay 8-1
C Smith/M Leishman 12-1
C Morikawa/M Wolff 14-1
B Watson/S Scheffler 14-1
T Finau/C Champ 16-1
C Kirk/B Todd 20-1
B Horschel/S Burns 25-1
D Willett/T Hatton 25-1
J Rose/H Stenson 30-1
M Homa/T Gooch 30-1
B Grace/H Varner 30-1
D Frittelli/K Streelman 33-1
K Bradley/B Steele 33-1
L Oosthuizen/C Schwartzel 33-1
V Hovland/K Ventura 35-1
S Im/B An 40-1
J Dahmen/L Griffin 45-1
L Glover/C Reavie 45-1
D Ghim/J Suh 50-1
S Brown/K Kisner 50-1
R Castro/C Tringale 50-1
T Pieters/T Lewis 50-1
C Hoffman/N Watney 50-1
W Clark/E Van Rooyen 55-1
G McDowell/M Wallace 55-1
A Noren/H Norlander 60-1
R Knox/B Stuard 66-1
M Thompson/W Gordon 66-1
J Kokrak/P Perez 66-1
J.J. Spaun/M Jones 70-1
M Laird/N Taylor 70-1
M McNealy/J Bramlett 80-1
R Werenski/P Uihlein 80-1
B Snedeker/K Mitchell 80-1
T Hoge/B Hossler 100-1
M NeSmith/C Seiffert 100-1
K-H Lee/K Stanley 100-1
D Hearn/S Power 100-1
D Redman/S Ryder 100-1
R Hojgaard/V Taylor 125-1
S Piercy/A Bhatia 125-1
T Duncan/A Schenk 125-1
C Hadley/B Martin 125-1
S Straka/J Teater 125-1
A Landry/A Cook 125-1
B Garnett/S Stallings 125-1
J.B. Holmes/R Garrigus 125-1
J Dufner/D Bozzelli 150-1
X Zhang/C.T. Pan 150-1
T Merritt/R Streb 150-1
R Sloan/A Baddeley 150-1
A Putnam/S Harrington 150-1
K Kraft/K Tway 150-1
J Vegas/A Romero 150-1
G Chalmers/C Percy 175-1
B Hagy/M Kim 175-1
C Beljan/M Every 175-1
R Blaum/J Byrd 200-1
B Hoag/W Roach 200-1
M Hubbard/S Cappelen 200-1
H Higgs/M Gellerman 200-1
P Malnati/C Baker 200-1
R Shelton/K Hickok 200-1
M Trainer/J Hahn 200-1
H Lebioda/B Burgoon 225-1
D Lee/S Bae 250-1
R Campos/M Anderson 250-1
K Stadler/J Wagner 250-1
R Oppenheim/G Murray 250-1
R Gibson/B Taylor 250-1
B Van Pelt/L List 250-1
M Gligic/V Whaley 250-1
K.J. Choi/S Kang 300-1
B Haas/H Mahan 300-1
K Aphibarnrat/A Atwal 300-1
N Ledesma/F Gomez 300-1
T Wilkinson/G McNeill 300-1
D.J. Trahan/R Barnes 300-1
W Austin/R Mediate 1000-1