With five of the top six and eight of the top 14 players in the world in the field, this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans doesn’t lack for storylines.
There’s a reason officials from the Fore!Kids Foundation, which stages the PGA Tour event at TPC of Louisiana, have been beaming for weeks about this year’s tournament.
Make that reasons.
Want to see the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking listing, newly-minted Masters champion Scottie Scheffler? You’ve come to the right place.
How about No. 2 Collin Morikawa, No. 4 Patrick Cantlay, No. 5 Viktor Hovland or No. 6 Cameron Smith? They’re all here, too.
Several others who’ve taken to the two-man team format, the PGA Tour’s only regular-season event of its kind, with tremendous success are in the field as well.
The last group includes Smith and Marc Leishman, the defending champions, and Billy Horschel, the world’s 14th-ranked player and the only man to have won on the par 72, 7,425-yard Avondale layout as an individual and as part of a team.
Smith actually has won twice here in the team format, joining Jonas Blixt to win the first one in 2017.
All are looking to have a good time with New Orleans as the backdrop, but while still treating it as a business opportunity.
A New Orleans-record $8.3 million purse is on the line, with just under $1.2 million going to each member of the winning team when the final putt drops Sunday afternoon.
Eighty two-man teams will begin the chase at 7 a.m. and 12:05 p.m. Thursday with the first round of the 72-hole event, which is Four-Ball. Both golfers play the hole with the lowest of the two scores going on the scorecard.
Naturally, Scheffler and playing partner Ryan Palmer, who won the Zurich Classic title in 2019 with Jon Rahm, will get the most attention.
Scheffler is less than two weeks removed from winning the Masters, which was his fourth victory in six events played over eight weeks. In that torrid six-event stretch, the 25-year-old Texan has pocketed $8,872,200.
But winning a fifth title in seven tournaments is not on his mind after taking last week off.
“I don’t look too far ahead,” he said Wednesday. “I really just try to stay in the moment. For me, that’s fun for you guys to talk about. It’s nice to be on a good run.
“All I’m focused on is this week and getting ready to play with Ryan. Goals, expectations: Nothing like that changes for me. I just like being out here playing golf.”
Smith and Leishman are among the players hoping Scheffler finally cools off.
The Australians certainly liked the way the course was playing Wednesday during the pro-am. The layout has firmed up under strong winds that have been blowing since early in the week.
“Yeah, it’s nice to be back. … I think Leish and I fell in love with this place a little bit last year, the way it played, especially firm and fast and a bit windy,” said Smith, who was in contention at the Masters and played in the final pairing Sunday. “Looks like more of the same this week.”
“The course is looking great again,” Leishman said. “It’s just good to be back in a town where we’ve had some success. It’s a cool city. We’re enjoying the food and everything it has to offer.”
Like Smith, Horschel is another player who loves the city and course. He won as an individual in 2013 for his first PGA Tour title and then teamed up with Scott Piercy in 2018 in the second team event.
“I’ve said this every year for I don’t know how many years … this feels like a second home to me,” said Horschel, a former Florida star who’ll again team with former LSU All-American Sam Burns. “It’s felt like that for quite a while now.”
Horschel and Burns tied for fourth here last year.
“You know, it’s everything about this place that I just feel very comfortable with,” Horschel said. “I think that’s what’s led to the success I’ve had here.”
Horschel and Burns came up a little short last year, but Burns recorded his first PGA Tour victory a week later at the Valspar Championship and has won twice already this season.
“I feel like we were really close last year,” Burns said. “It may have been something different if we played poorly or something else, but we kind of both felt like we wanted redemption because we were really close last year.”