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Round 1 of the Zurich Classic is set to tee off in less than 24 hours. With such an unorthodox tournament, our strategy changes a bit. I'm typically a proponent of taking a few longshots when it comes to the first-round leader market. However, with only 80 teams in the field, I'll shift my focus to the mid-range and provide an additional selection.
When you think of team events, the QBE Shootout may be another tournament that you look at. Sea Island residents Harris English and Matt Kuchar have won that tournament three times. Not only are both from Georgia, but both are extremely competent on the greens, which I believe will be key this week.
While you have Kuchar and English dominating QBE Shootout headlines, for Zurich Classic purposes, that honor goes to the duo of Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown. Both are members out at Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, South Carolina and play money games together whenever they aren’t playing for the big money on the PGA Tour. Expectedly, Kisner and Brown have been extremely successful in this tournament. A playoff loss in 2017 has been followed up with a T-15 in 2018 and a T-5 in 2019.
Factoring this in, team chemistry, while next to impossible to quantify, should play a role to some extent. Those who have played numerous rounds together and perfected the art of “ham and egging” it will catch my attention. This is especially important when targeting Round 1 leaders, as best-ball will be the format on Thursday.
The oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have priced up the first-round leader market. At the top are tournament favorites and defending champions Ryan Palmer and Jon Rahm at +1200. Also at +1200 are Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. Cantlay and Schauffele are good friends and teamed up at the 2019 Presidents Cup where they went 2-0 in alternate shot, but 0-2 in best-ball.
End of Round 1 Leader (Odds via PointsBet):
+4000: Dylan Frittelli/Kevin Streelman, Talor Gooch/Max Homa, Branden Grace/Harold Varner III,Viktor Hovland/Kristoffer Ventura, Chris Kirk/Brendon Todd, Jason Korak/Pat Perez, Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel, Brendan Steele/Keegan Bradley, Henrik Stenson/Justin Rose
+5000: Scott Brown/Kevin Kisner, Roberto Castro/Cameron Tringale, Brice Garnett/Scott Stallings, Doug Ghim/Justin Suh, Lucas Glover/Chez Reavie, Tom Lewis/Thomas Pieters, Graeme McDowell/Matt Wallace, Alexander Noren/Henrik Norlander, Joel Dahmen/Lanto Griffin
To Lead After Round 1 (Odds via PointsBet):
The bad boys of social media have teamed up for this year’s Zurich Classic. A popular duo amongst the people on the internet, Gooch and Homa should also be a popular bet this week. Not only are they friends off the golf course, but I believe their individual games on the golf course should thrive in the team environment.
Both are highly effective with their irons, ranking inside the top-10 in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach over their last 24 rounds. Both also tend to be streaky with their putters, which can be a very good thing or potentially fatal, depending on when they decide to make their putts.
Gooch has shown the ability to get out of the gates rather quickly, as he ranks T-33 on the PGA Tour in Round 1 scoring average. Combine that with the consistency that Homa has shown throughout this season and I expect them to excel in the best-ball format and hopefully in Round 1.
If you want to talk about team chemistry, you should start with Hovland and Ventura. Competitors in junior golf and teammates at Oklahoma State University, Hovland and Ventura have been playing golf together for the majority of their young lives. They have played countless rounds together and should know each other’s game, strengths and weaknesses, better than most teams.
Hovland has already made a name for himself on the PGA Tour. He’s a ball-striking machine and reminds me of a young Rory McIlroy. Hovland has the ability to catch fire and reel off birdie after birdie, but also has the ability to make a big number out of nowhere.
Ventura on the other hand is still trying to get his feet underneath him. There have been glimpses of his potential and maybe a week playing alongside Hovland is what he needs to return to form. Ventura’s biggest asset is his putter. If Hovland finds trouble in Round 1, I have faith in Ventura’s ability to roll in momentum-saving putts to steady the ship.
We’ll round out our first-round leader selections with another strong friendship. A decade removed from winning the QBE Shootout, Steele and Bradley will look to win another team event together. When scanning the odds board, this duo immediately jumped off the screen as both have the ability to go low in Round 1.
Bradley currently ranks T-17 in Round 1 scoring average and Steele is not far behind at 31st. Bradley’s ball-striking numbers can go up against anyone’s in the field. His putting, not so much. Historically, the putter has been Bradley’s downfall, but in his past four starts, he’s actually gained 1.8 strokes on the greens. This fails to paint the full picture, as Bradley has gained 8.0 strokes putting in Round 1 alone during this stretch, meaning he typically runs the well dry on Thursdays.
While Bradley’s kryptonite is putting, Steele’s is his iron play. The numbers are a bit skewed as most of his (really) poor approach rounds seem to take place over the weekend. On paper, Steele and Bradley are the perfect “ham and egg” team with the tendency to run hot in Round 1. Sign me up.
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