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Let's be honest: there's not a lot of meat on the bone this week in New Orleans.
The headliners at the Zurich Classic are Keegan Bradley (Kobe beef), Justin Rose (filet), Rickie Fowler (NY Strip) and… Patrick Reed? Now, Reed might consider himself a Kobe-and-lobster-surf-and-turf delight, but that quadrangle isn't exactly the '27 Yankees.
Still, it's an event whose winners have been some of the up-and-comers of recent times: Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Billy Horschel (2013) have claimed the title the last three years, with it being Bubba's second career win and truly starting him on the path to cult hero. Just looking at those three champs tells three different stories -- the bomber, the ball striker and the wildcard. It's really the story of a Pete Dye course, which TPC Louisiana happens to be (that's consecutive weeks, and make it 3 of 4 with TPC Sawgrass in two weeks). So what can we count on this week?
First, it's worth noting that rough is nonexistent at TPC Louisiana. Truly, it's less than at Augusta National. Second, it's got plenty of links-course features (see: few trees), but with more modern, undulating greens -- so good ball-strikers should do well here. Third, it's a par 72… which means there are par-5's to take advantage of. So we're going to see some low scoring from good iron players this week, and if a bomber gets hot, he can overpower the course.
But most important, since 2006, every winner has been a player who moves the ball right to left. It's a course for hookers. (Insert childish laugh here.).
So as the tie-breaker on course history and form, I'm taking the guy who doesn't leave himself with too many crazy up-and-downs and/or moves the ball right to left. After all, recent top-3 finishers include Fred Funk, Charles Howell III, Ken Duke, Peter Lonard, Charlie Wi and Jeff Overton, and winners have been the aforementioned right-to-left trio along with Jason Bohn, Jerry Kelly Andres Romero, Nick Wayney and Chris Couch. These are guys who make their bones with their respective iron games and either hit it dead straight or right to left. Strangely, the tournament course record here is ONLY a 64, which I expect will be broken this week with great scoring conditions in the Big Easy.
Onto the picks (check the full field here):
1. Justin Rose. His Masters performance (T14) was a promising sign that his shoulder issues are behind him. As someone with Rose on his season-long draft team, I certainly hope so. Last year he finished T25 at ANGC before a T15 in NOLA, so the trend is there for him to have a high finish this week. With the way the season has played out so far -- a lot of first-time/lesser-known winners -- I like odds of the big guns making a run (Kuchar might have started it last week) as well as the way things are shaping up for Rose. He fits the bill of a good ball striker and long-hitter who should perform on this track.
2. John Senden. Solely a trends and fit pick here. I still wouldn't trust him to bring home a tournament more than a loaf of bread from the store, but his game certainly suits this place. He hits it far enough, is plenty straight (46th), hits a lot of greens (29th) and, for the first time in his career, is among the leaders in putting (21st in SG-P). Plus he slays par-5's (14th in birdie-or-better) and can move it right to left. I'm a trends guy, so I like that he's an Aussie and that only Americans or Aussies win on Tour in 2014.
3. Nick Watney. Sigh, 'ol Nick is like a box of chocolates - we never know what we're going to get. But the 2007 Zurich champ has rarely disappointed here, with a couple of top-20 finishes since his win. He hasn't cracked the top 20 yet this year, but NOLA brings out the best in him, whatever that is. (Warning: Sidebar.) Watney has sponsorships from Hugo Boss, Lexus, Nike and Rolex... and only has one out-of-the-blue win (2012 Barclays) in the last three years. Meanwhile, Scott Stallings is obsessively stroking his Nick Watney bobblehead doll in the dark corner of his hotel room.
4. Charles Howell III. Finished one shot out of the winner's circle twice since the tourney moved to TPC Louisiana in 2006. Already has five top-10's in 2013-14 season. If for some reason you didn't use him in Hawaii or on the West Coast swing, this is one of his last remaining strongholds for the year.
5. Rickie Fowler. I'm sold on his swing changes, I'm sold that he's going to be a mezzanine-level star -- just want to see him actually win more. He plays better on tougher courses, so I'm not sure he'll do it this week, but I think he'll be in the mix.
6. Keegan Bradley. Standard top-10 this week. Nothing to see here. Unless he wins, and then you'll be ticked you didn't take him in One and Done a weak field. Great Yahoo! play, but I'm not a huge fan of burning him this week.
7. JB Holmes. It's not exactly a do-or-die situation, but Holmes has nine starts remaining to earn $100K or he loses out on his medical exemption. With the way he's been playing -- including a T18 last week in Hilton Head -- he should hit that mark fairly easily. Throw in his history at New Orleans, with a T13 the last time he teed it up here in 2012, and a weak field and it could be great scenario for the long-hitting Kentuckian.
8. Russell Knox. We've been pumping his tires for months now, and he seems to fit the bill of recent winners -- guys who seem like they're about to ready break through and finally get their moment in NOLA. A poor man's Billy Horschel, so to speak. Knox has been very solid this year -- already over the $1 million mark -- so it would't be out of frame for him to win.
9. Charley Hoffman. He's played here a lot and doesn't have a big finish to show for it, although he's almost always been on the cusp of contention. But this is a new Hoff, with short locks and a consistent game that's produced seven top-25's in 13 events in 2013-14. The man makes a lot of birdies (9th) and his weakness -- driving accuracy -- is minimized this week.
10. Ryan Palmer. Having a great year and shares the course record at TPC Louisiana (64). The West Texan (Amarillo) will appreciate the light rough and wide fairways, and his pronounced draw will be plenty favorable on a course with sight lines that clearly favor the right-to-left player.
Player to avoid: Patrick Reed. If you haven't already used him this year, save him for later in the summer. He doesn't seem to have it right now, but later in 2014 he'll come to several courses on which he had top-10's in 2013. Why risk it?
Couldn't pull the trigger: Graham DeLaet (slumping a little, although the course should suit him), Matt Every (should hit a wall soon), Kevin Stadler (no reason other than that he plays a fade), Sean O'Hair (like what he's been doing, and this track suits him).
Strange Story on New Orleans: Who doesn't like stories of Turkish princes murdered in the Quarter, with a house anyone who's been to Mardi Gras has probably passed (or urinated on) multiple times?
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