At first pass, the field at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans offers slim pickings in terms of a Power Ranking. Two years ago Jason Dufner won his first PGA TOUR event here, and now this has become a stop worth skipping for him. Ditto for past winner, Bubba Watson.
The weaker field has everything to do with the spot in the schedule, falling two weeks after the Masters and two weeks prior to THE PLAYERS. For an elite player, this is no man’s land. Hilton Head offers a nice come down from the tension of the Masters for those that want to have a little seaside party. Quail Hollow, next week’s venue, has recently been considered one of the favorite stops on TOUR for the game’s A-List until the debacle of the greens last year. While I haven’t heard, I have a feeling the membership at Quail won’t allow for another national embarrassment and will have the putting surfaces as slick as ever.
One thing omitted from yesterday’s preview is the recent history of breakthrough winners of the high-end variety. Dufner did it two years ago and Billy Horschel capped off a hot run with his only PGA TOUR win last year.
With that in mind, here we go:
- Rickie Fowler – It’s all coming together for Puma Orange, as he posted a sixth to go with a T5 at the Masters in his last two starts. His three trips to TPC Louisiana have resulted in a run of T26-T10-T32.
- Justin Rose – Really the only other option to lead off this list, Rose has tied for 10th and 15th in his last two stops at the Zurich Classic. He also enters off a T8, MC , T14 (Masters).
- Graham DeLaet – Keeping with the theme of the recent breakthroughs at TPC Louisiana, he has to be on that very short list of guys overdue for a win. Don’t let his missed cut at the Masters throw you off, as those greens are difficult to navigate for a first-timer. Before that he had posted a T8 and a T19, so his form is just fine. Eight of his 10 rounds have been under par in New Orleans, even managing a T4 in 2012.
- Russell Knox – If it’s not going to be GDL, Knox may be the next best option for a breakthrough. You have to love his T43-T26-T9 trend headed into the week, and his only prior start here was a T30 in 2012.
- Matt Every – While we didn’t place a big emphasis on SGP this week, it’s worth noting he leads the category. He’s also consistently posting his career-best results at most venues right now. His current best at TPC Louisiana is a T32, but he’s a virtual lock to improve on that.
- Ryan Palmer – Had the best splits of all the players I studied this week, ranking 15th in GIR, 15th in driving distance, 16th in total driving, sixth in par 4 scoring average and seventh in par 5 scoring average. Tied for seventh in his most recent PGA TOUR start and had a playoff loss at The Honda Classic three starts ago. He’s made five of his six cuts at TPC Louisiana, but his only top 30 was a T4 in 2012.
- Keegan Bradley – Sometimes he’s probably overrated on lists like these, but I’m not sure who to replace him with. He tied for 26th here in 2011 and then missed the cut in each of his last two stops. He also is a T43 and a missed cut at the Masters removed from his runner-up at Bay Hill. I wouldn’t blow a one-and-done on him, but wouldn’t mind having him on my Yahoo! bench just in case.
- Patrick Reed – This is as good a spot as any for him to break out of his dry spell since claiming to be a top-five player in the world. His two finishes at TPC Louisiana are a solid T24 and a missed cut. That he ranks 10th in par 5 scoring average should come in handy, as the winner usually plays the par 5s in 10- or 11-under-par for the week.
- Nick Watney – His course history deserves better than this, but his current form deserves worse. I guess you could say this is a compromise. Still solid tee-to-green, but isn’t scoring his ball this year all that well.
- Kevin Stadler – Backed up a T8 at the Masters with some weekend television coverage at the RBC Heritage before falling into a tie for 38th. He tied for eighth here last year. He ranks 10th in total driving and 20th in GIR, so it will once again all come down to his putting.
- Chris Stroud – Similar to GDL and Knox, Stroud has been pining for a win and has finished between T21 and T26 in three of his last four trips to the Bayou. A T31-T12-T48 run in his last three TOUR starts. Despite being challenged for length off the tee, he ranks sixth in par 5 scoring average.
- Jonathan Byrd – His last four outings have been his best, rattling off a T12-T32-T19-T31 run in his last four starts and satisfying his Major Medical in the process. Don’t put too much weight on his MC here last year, as it was one of his first starts back from wrist surgery. Before that, his T12 in 2008 stands out as a highlight.
Next 5 (alphabetical): Lucas Glover, Charles Howell III, Jeff Overton, John Senden, Cameron Tringale
Yes, I left Billy Horschel off the list on purpose. His form compared to what it was last year this time is significantly different.
Looking for some wild cards? Consider Hudson Swafford, Stuart Appleby and two guys that made some noise at Harbour Town last weekend in Ben Martin and Nicholas Thompson.
Worth mentioning, Brooks Koepka Monday Qualified for this event with an 8-under 64 after my research for the Power Ranking was completed. He needs just seven FedExCup points for Special Temporary Membership, and very well could be a factor this week.
We will return tomorrow to look at some games. Until then, best of luck to all!