Zurich Classic: A preview and best bets for this week's PGA Tour event in New Orleans
By Dave Tindall. Last Updated: 27/04/14 4:29pm
The 18th hole at TPC Louisiana
The PGA Tour pitches up in New Orleans this week as Billy Horschel attempts to defend the Zurich Classic.
This event has been a happy hunting ground for those trying to land their first victory and, last year, Horschel became the sixth player in the last nine runnings to make it the scene of their debut win.
Horschel also added to another recent trend as he became the eighth American in the last 10 years to win the event. The previous two - Jason Dufner (2012) and Bubba Watson (2011) - later went on to become major winners.
Dufner and Watson, who aren't in the field this week, both took the title in a play-off while nine of the past 11 have been decided by either a single shot or extra holes so it suggests we're in for a tight finish.
Justin Rose, who is coming off a tied 14th place in The Masters, heads the betting.
Billy Horschel celebrates victory in 2013
TPC Louisiana is a low-lying Pete Dye creation built among wetlands and swamps close to the Mississippi River. There is plenty of water to avoid, while the Bermudagrass greens are traditionally fast. Par is 72 and the course measures 7,399 yards. Over 100 bunkers on the course make this a strategic test.
Billy Horschel's winning score of 20-under in 2013 was the lowest ever posted at TPC Louisiana. The previous five were -19 (Jason Dufner, 2012), -15 (Bubba Watson, 2011), -18 (Jason Bohn, 2010), -14 (Jerry Kelly, 2009) and -13 (Andres Romero, 2008). The lowest score shot there is an eight-under 64, a mark achieved by Kyle Reifers (R1, 2007), Troy Matteson (R2, 2009), Dean Wilson (R2, 2011), Greg Chalmers (R2, 2012), Russell Knox (R2, 2012), Ryan Palmer (R3, 2012) and Billy Horschel (R4, 2013).
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Justin Rose (12/1): The Englishman never really got in a blow at Augusta, middle rounds of 70-69 repairing the mess caused by an opening 76 before the engine spluttered again in a final round 74. A tied 14th wasn't bad though and could give him something to build on. This is his sixth straight start at TPC Louisiana and his best results have come in the last two years - a 10th in 2012 and a 15th last year.
Rickie Fowler (18/1): A strong Masters gave Fowler his best ever finish of tied fifth at Augusta and it could have been even better but for a momentum-killing three-putt at the second on Sunday which turned a birdiie to a bogey. It followed on from a sixth place in Houston so the work he's done with Butch Harmon really appears to be paying off. Fowler, who topped the Scrambling stats at Augusta, has finished 32nd, 10th and 26th in his three starts in this event.
Keegan Bradley (20/1): Rounds of 75-78 in The Masters saw Bradley slamming his trunk early at Augusta but just two starts earlier he'd finished second at Bay Hill. The 2011 US PGA winner has had four other top 20s in 2014 but, in general, won't be satisfied with his campaign. He doesn't leap off the page at this venue as he's missed the cut in each of the last two years. His best was a tied 26th on debut in 2011.
Graham DeLaet (20/1): Some had the Canadian down as a dark horse for The Masters but that idea was ruined when he shot an opening 80. He did recover with a second round 72 to suggest nothing too much was wrong beyond debutant's nerves. Before that DeLaet was 19th in Houston and eighth in the Valspar and a fourth place here in 2012 suggests he's a definite candidate to be the next player to make this his breakthrough win.
Ryan Palmer: Big chance this week
Ryan Palmer (25/1): The Texan has had an excellent campaign so far, finishing second in the Humana Challenge and the Honda Classic whilst adding top 10s in the Sony Open and last time out in the Houston Open. As noted above, he also owns a share of the course record, a 64, and that helped him take fourth place in this event two years ago. He's third in Par Breakers (a measure of birdies and eagles) in 2014 which bodes well for a tournament where the winner will have to go low.
Matt Every (28/1): Every followed up his first PGA Tour win (at Bay Hill) by missing the cut on his Masters debut (77-78) but bounced back well with a 12th place at Hilton Head last week. He's had six finishes of 13th or better in his 10 starts this year which represents new levels of consistency. The key is his putting (he's jumped from 120th last season to fourth) and that's helped elevate him to 8th in Scoring Average. A 32nd here last year was his first cut at New Orelans in three visits.
Patrick Reed (33/1): The butt of all sorts of 'top five player' jokes since he declared himself in that bracket with his victory in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He's followed that statement up with a missed cut on his Masters debut and a modest tied 48th at Hilton Head last week so will be keen to steady the ship. However, three wins in seven months - all before his 24th birthday - is still fairly remarkable so don't write him off. This is actually his third start in the event and he was tied 24th on debut in 2012.
Ryan Palmer looks very much in the 'winner waiting to happen' category at the moment and this looks a great chance for him to bank a first victory of 2014.
"I love where my game is at and it's coming soon," he said after finishing runner-up in the Honda Classic last month and on a course where he can attack the par fives (he's seventh in the Par 5 stats) expect him to be a big contender.
Take the 25/1.
This is a great time for Aussie golf and John Senden looks to be underrated at 40/1.
He made the big breakthrough with his win in the Valspar Championship last month and gave his confidence another big boost with an excellent eighth place in The Masters.
Senden is 14th in the Par 5 stats this year and has solid numbers all round and five cuts out of six at this venue, including a 12th and a 13th, marks him down as someone who can challenge this week.
If we're to see another first-time winner, Russell Knox could well be the man.
The American-based Scot was runner-up in the Honda Classic last month and also took ninth at Hilton Head last week. Five other top 30s point to a campaign of great consistency.
He was also 30th on his one start in this tournament in 2012 but that doesn't tell the whole story. In round two, Knox matched the course record (64) and that put him in second place at halfway.
If he gets in a similar position this time, he'd have the confidence to kick on.
The other obvious first-time winner candidate is Graham DeLaet.
Graham DeLaet: Could break his duck
Forget his Masters blip and concentrate on all the other positive signals he's been sending out.
The Canadian is third in Greens In Regulation, makes lots of birdies and he went close in this tournament two years ago.
He said back then: "It's exciting. It's the first time I've been in this position this deep into a tournament."
After two second places in 2014, this could be the week.
His price is rather skinny for an each-way punt but there's room in the staking plan to go win only at 20s.
2pts e.w. Ryan Palmer at 25/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. John Senden at 40/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Russell Knox at 40/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
2pts win Graham DeLaet at 20/1