#AskLav: Field of dreams for Tiger at Muirfield

By Ryan LavnerJuly 11, 2013, 2:04 pm

With apologies to the green jackets and the blue coats, the year’s third major (which usually requires raincoats) is this scribe’s favorite. 

There is so much to love about the week, from the challenge that links golf presents, to the unpredictability of the weather, to the fact that the great Peter Alliss is in the booth. Hey, we even tolerate the requisite shots of kids eating ice cream on a “warm” summer day. It’s all part of the delightful little package, delivered each morning (in the States, at least) as you sip the morning coffee.

So, as we’ve done in this space before each of the first two majors, this week’s mailbag will be dedicated solely to the Open Championship. 

Here, your questions as we look toward Muirfield: 

Ah, yet another believer in the Breakthrough Slam! A shoo-in, he is not, but Snedeker remains one of the better picks in a tournament that, this year at least, offers no overwhelming favorite. Of course Sneds has the game to win; just last year, of course, he blitzed Royal Lytham at the halfway point, his 10-under 130 matching the low 36-hole score at the Open. Even though those good vibes evaporated over the weekend, his 73-74 dropping him to a T-3 finish, it was encouraging stuff. After all, prior to that performance, he had missed the cut in his previous three trips across the pond, failing to break 70 in all six rounds.

This, though, has been a curious year for Snedeker. The erstwhile Hottest Player in the Game during the first two months of the season, he was first sidelined by a rib injury, and then he scuffled Sunday at the Masters, and only now has he begun to show signs of returning to form, following up a T-17 at the U.S. Open with a T-8 at Congressional. If one player fits the mold of the next in a line of 2013 breakthrough major winners, yes, it’s probably Sneds.

Sounds like an intriguing early-week column! Theories abound.

The Open remains Luke Donald’s best chance to win a major, and in three of the past four years he has finished T-11 or better. So that’s encouraging. Of course, he has also arrived at the year’s third major in better form – he has just three top 10s in 12 starts this season. In the same discussion is Lee Westwood, now 40 and major-less, who should be in contention as long as his putter cooperates.

Going deeper, here are three players who have a great chance to make Muirfield the site of their maiden major triumph: Jason Day, Matteo Manassero and Henrik Stenson. Watch out for Stenson, in particular.

So kind of you to ask. It’ll be my first time playing across the pond, so it should be adventurous. Esteemed colleague Rex Hoggard recently loaned me a 10.5-degree driver head, which could pose an issue if the wind howls. Accuracy off the tee has never been a strong suit, so I’ll put a premium on keeping the ball in play and staying out of the hay. Other than that, I’ll simply have to play the ball a little bit back in the stance, choke down, and swing easy. That’s the standard line, right?

Choice B. Sure, the elbow strain could flare up again, especially with early reports that the rough is up at Muirfield. But after a month off and constant treatment, he should be able to get through the Open without incident. Tiger is the best links player of his era, and he knows how to manage his way around this track, so long as the wind isn’t blowing, the wind chill isn’t 40 degrees, and a needlelike rain isn’t falling.

There’s no wrong answer with this one; I think both will play well at Muirfield. I’d lean toward Scott, who has finished inside the top 30 at the Open six of the last seven years, and, 12 months after that infamous meltdown, could give the claret jug the sweetest of smooches. Playing the best golf of his life, Rose should be in the mix as well, but he has a surprisingly poor Open record – his only top 10 was that memorable week in 1998, when he was an amateur.

Sure do. Loyal readers of this column will recall last week’s ode to the belly putter, and my intentions remain unchanged: I will keep the belly putter in my bag until a first-tee starter snaps the club in half. Which actually could happen on this trip.

Like this question a lot, so let’s break it down a bit more. Back on Jan. 3 this scribe opined that Tiger would win at Muirfield, and that remains my hunch, even if he’s rusty from taking a month off. But this isn’t 2000-02 anymore – if forced to choose, you can’t take Tiger against the field. There could (and maybe will) be another first-time winner at the Open, a conclusion based solely on the percentages – 14 of the last 17 major winners have been first-timers, including the first two this year. Indeed, it’s been a summer of parity.

But Muirfield seems to bring out the best in the top players, which helps explain why since 1959 the Open winners there have been guys named Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Watson, Faldo and Els. Which, of course, brings me back to Tiger. He’s still my pick to win.

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With help from partner, Burns could secure Tour status

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 8:33 pm

AVONDALE, La. – This week Sam Burns has yet another chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, but his partner may determine whether he’s ultimately successful.

In an interesting twist, Burns is burning one of his seven available sponsor exemptions this week at the Zurich Classic. He is 80 non-member points shy of securing special temporary membership, which would allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.

Burns needs at least a two-way tie for fourth to earn the necessary points, but it won’t all depend on how he plays this week. The Zurich is a two-man game, with two rounds apiece of fourballs and alternate shot.

Burns' partner this week is William McGirt. Their games couldn’t be more different – Burns ranks eighth on Tour in driving distance, at 309 yards per pop, while McGirt is 143rd (290) – but they hope to compliment each other over four days at TPC Louisiana.

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

“I got a good pair of spurs sharpened up last week while I was in San Antonio,” joked McGirt, who is looking for his first top-10 since the fall. “I told him I was going to ride him hard this week. It’ll be fun.”

Burns will have at least two (and maybe three) more opportunities to earn status, with starts lined up next week at the Wells Fargo Championship and also at the Memorial. He doesn’t face quite as much pressure because he won earlier this month on the Web.com Tour and currently sits fourth on the money list, essentially locking up his PGA Tour card for next season.

“It’s obviously nice to have that win,” he said, “but at the same time you have to be careful and make sure you play enough out there to where you’re secure for sure. You don’t want to get at the end of the year and then have two or three events left and you have to make a certain amount of money to get your card.

“So I’m just going step by step, tournament by tournament, and trying to figure out what’s the best route.”   

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Spieth-Palmer draw Rahm-Bryan early at Zurich

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:49 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The PGA Tour’s only team event gets underway Thursday at the Zurich Classic. Here are some featured groups to watch at TPC Louisiana.

Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley/Daniel Berger-Gary Woodland: 8:39 a.m. ET Thursday off 10 tee, 2:08 p.m. Friday off 1: 

The Bama boys, Thomas and Cauley, team up for the second consecutive year, after tying for fifth a year ago on the strength of a final-round 61. Berger teamed with Thomas Pieters a year ago but missed the cut, so he’ll try his luck with Woodland, who also shares a management team at Excel Sports.

Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer/Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan: 8:52 a.m. Thursday off 10, 2:19 p.m. Friday off 1: 

Spieth and Palmer finished fourth a year ago, five shots back of the leaders. Spieth is making his first start since his epic Sunday run at the Masters. Rahm and Bryan have opposite strengths – Rahm is one of the game’s preeminent drivers, while Bryan, statistically, is one of the worst – but the Spaniard is coming off a European Tour victory at home. Another wrinkle here: Even though no world-ranking points are on offer this week, Rahm is set to supplant Spieth as the third-ranked player in the world.

Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels/Brooks Koepka-Marc Turnesa: 1:31 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:42 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Two stars with questionable sidekicks. Ruffels is an up-and-coming Australian who has been playing primarily in Latin America. (He also shares a manager with Day.) Turnesa, meanwhile, got the call late last week from Koepka, who is finally ready to return from a 15-week layoff because of a wrist injury. They both play out of Medalist in South Florida, but Turnesa, 40, has turned his attention to real estate instead of professional golf.

Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay/Jonas Blixt-Cameron Smith: 1:44 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:53 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Reed makes his first start as Masters champion after taking off the past two weeks. This duo tied for 14th last year, undone by a Saturday 75 in foursomes play. Blixt and Smith are the defending champions, after shooting 27 under par last year and holding off Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a playoff. Blixt doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour since then, while Smith tied for fifth at the Match Play and the Masters.

Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson/Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar: 1:57 p.m. Thursday off 1, 10:04 a.m. Friday off 10:

Rose and Stenson, who have proved to be a formidable pairing in the Ryder Cup, were a stunning missed cut last year, after shooting 6 under par for two rounds. Watson teamed up with J.B. Holmes to finish fifth last year, while Kuchar is making his first start in this event since 2009.

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Zurich Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:09 pm

The PGA Tour tries team competition for the second year in a row at the Zurich Classic. Here are the key stats and information for play at TPC LouisianaClick here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $7,200,000 ($1,036,800 to each winner)

Course: TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards)

Defending champions: Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt (-27) in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner

News and notes

• All four reigning major champions - Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed - are in the field this week. This is the first time all four reigning major winners have played this event since 1984 (Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Tom Watson, Hall Sutton).

 Both members of winning team this week will earn an official PGA Tour victory, two-year Tour exemptions, and exemptions into the Players and PGA Championships.

• That said, no Official World Golf Ranking points are awarded from this event and winners will not earn exemptions into the 2019 Masters.

Notable teams in the field 

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson

 Rose won this event in 2014, when it was individual stroke play. From 2012-16, he was a combined 60 under at TPC Louisiana in stroke play, seven shots better than any other player.

 Rose has dramatically improved his performance on the greens from last season, moving from 123rd in strokes gained-putting to 10th.

 Stenson's last three starts look like this: solo 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T-6 at the Houston Open, and T-5 at the Masters.

Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan

 Rahm is coming off a victory at the Spanish Open, his second worldwide win in 2018 and fifth since Jan. 2017.

 Rahm outdrives Bryan by an average of 30 yards off the tee, 305.1 to 276.3.

 Rahm is second on Tour in the strokes gained-off the tee, while Bryan is 210th, last among qualifying players.

Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay

 Reed is just the fifth reigning Masters champ to play the Zurich since 2000, joining Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson (twice), and Bubba Watson.

 Reed has gone T-2, T-7, T-9, WIN in his last four starts.

 Cantlay broke through for his maiden PGA Tour win earlier this season at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.

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Alternate shot to be used Sunday at Zurich

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 6:41 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Tournament officials made a slight tweak to the format for this year’s Zurich Classic.

Instead of having the two-man teams compete in fourballs (best ball) during the final round, players will now play alternate shot on Sunday.

That means fewer birdies and roars, but the Tour is hoping that the move will create more strategy and volatility – leaders likely won’t be able to run away from the pack, while the contenders have more of a chance with a good round.

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith teamed up to win last year’s event at 27 under. Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown fired a 60 on Sunday to force a playoff, but for much of the day it was a two-team race.

“There could be volatility,” Jim Furyk said. “It just might come in a different fashion.”

“There’ll be a lot more hold-on as opposed to catch-up,” David Duval said.

Fourballs will be played during the first and third rounds, while the alternate-shot format is used Friday and Sunday. That'll speed up play Sunday, but it also eases some of the concerns from last year, because now players can ease into the flow of the tournament by playing best ball first.

“It’s a little more comfortable, with two balls in play,” Furyk said.

One of the drawbacks? The Zurich has its best field in tournament history, with 10 of the top 14 players in the world, and those stars will only hit half the shots on Sunday. That’s not ideal for either the fans at TPC Louisiana or those watching at home.

“That’s sort of a bummer,” Billy Horschel said. “They had success last year, but they’re trying to make a little tweak and see if it’s any better. If not, they can go back to the old way.”