By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The PGA Tour marches into Dixieland this week for the 2012 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The event history traces back to 1922 when it was first known as the Southern (Spring) Open and Gene Sarazen won with a score of 10-over par (but wasn’t played regularly on Tour until 1938).
The Zurich Classic is played on the challenging (mad-genius Pete Dye designed) TPC Louisiana course (built on swampland) with 71 sand bunkers and five water hazards sprawling the rolling hills, wetlands, and pestering cypress.
With some fairway bunkers nearly football-field size in length and several pot bunkers so deep you need a rope to climb out of them, TPC-Louisiana ranked 20th in difficulty on Tour in 2011.
And the “Triange of Doom” (a trio of lengthy consecutive par-4s on the front 9) is sure to give players nightmares (holes No. 4 and No. 6 are the first and third most difficult holes on the course).
“It wouldn’t be a golf course of mine if some players won’t scream and yell about it,” Dye said. “But that’s the idea. As an architect you want to get into a players head.”
Bubba Watson returns to defend his Zurich title in his first appearance since winning The Masters three weeks ago.
“[Zurich] was a big stepping stone for me,” Watson said of his win last year, where he was first in both Driving Distance and Greens-In-Regulation.
Watson defeated Webb Simpson with a birdie on the second playoff hole last year for his second win of 2011 (Simpson was in command coming down the stretch until calling a penalty on himself on the 15th green).
Four of the top-10 players in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up in “The Big Easy” including Watson (No. 4), No. 2 Luke Donald, No. 7 Steve Stricker, and No. 10 Justin Rose.
13 of the top 30 players in the FedExCup standings, 13 major champions, 12 past Nawlins’ champions, and 9 winners on Tour in 2012 will also be in the Bayou field this week.
Players to watch
Luke Donald (11/1)
Donald finished T-8 at Zurich last year, and he’s second on Tour in Strokes-Gained-Putting this year. However it’s been hot or cold for Donald this season.
He won the Transitions Championship, and finished T-6 in the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. But he finished outside the top-30 in the other 4 events he’s played in.
Currently ranked 137th in Greens-In-Regulation, Donald will need to turn that around if he’s going to get a top-10 in New Orleans. Don’t look for it to happen this week.
Bubba Watson (12/1)
Watson is the hottest thing on Tour and a win at Zurich would send his popularity not just through the roof but into outer-space.
Bubba is first in Driving Distance (313.1 yards) and second in GIR (73.61 percent) which sets up well on any course (let alone the long 7,341 yard TPC-Louisiana).
Critics point out Watson has never had to deal with the enormous media attention he’ll face as a major champion during the week of an event and that pressure might be too much.
But Watson flourished in what could arguably be the hottest pressure-cooker imaginable: a playoff victory in a major championship at The Masters.
There will be no wilt in Watson’s game. I think Watson loves the spotlight, expect him to finish inside the top-10, and will be in contention again on Championship Sunday.
Keegan Bradley (18/1)
Bradley has played well all season with nine top-25 finishes, no missed cuts and a near victory in a playoff loss to Bill Haas at the Northern Trust Open earlier this season.
In his only appearance he last year (his rookie season) he finished T-26. But he’s notched three top-10 finishes and is ranked first on Tour in All-Around Ranking this season.
Keegan should contend.
Justin Rose (20/1)
Along with his win at Cadillac Rose has two other top-5 finishes and five top-25 finishes.
He’s third in Scoring Average (69.31) and fifth in GIR (70.63%) and is having what could very well be a career year.
But historically Rose has struggled in New Orleans with two missed cuts and a T-43 in 2010. Something about TPC-Louisiana is troublesome for Rose and I expect him to struggle again this week.
Webb Simpson (20/1)
Simpson (World No. 14) has three top-10 finishes this season but hasn’t finished in the top-30 in his last three starts.
He suffered a heartbreaking loss here in 2011 when the wind moved his ball on the 15th green after he addressed it (which was a one-stroke penalty at the time).
Prior to last season Simpson struggled at TPC-Louisiana with a T-32 finish in 2009 and a missed cut in 2010 by 12 strokes.
Hoist the winner’s trophy
Graeme McDowell (28/1)
The 18th ranked player in the world finished inside the top-15 four times in six Tour events this season, with two top-10 finishes and one second place finish (Arnold Palmer Invitational).
He’s ranked second in Driving Accuracy on Tour (73.21 percent), 11th in Scoring Average (69.90) and 21st in GIR.
McDowell was frustrated with his overall performance (T-12 finish) at The Masters but a career-low 68 on Sunday makes me believe his attitude is in the right place and he’s going to put it all together for his first win this season.
Camillo Villegas, Ryan Palmer, Fred Funk
Tim Petrovic, Cameron Tringale, Graham DeLaet
Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson
Ben Curtis, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell
Luke Donald, Keegan Bradley, K.J. Choi
Nick Watney, David Toms, Ernie Els
Michael Bradley, Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman
D.A. Points, Charley Hoffman, Retief Goosen
John Daly, Jason Dufner, Scott Dunlap
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina knocked over 1,000 trees and left standing water on the course for weeks forcing the Zurich Classic to move to the English Turn Golf & Country Club (where it was held from 1989-2004) until it returned back to TPC-Louisiana in 2007.
Two-time major champion John Daly is in the field on invitation replacing Boo Weekley who withdrew for medical reasons (Daly has not had a full Tour card in six years).
Lee Trevino won here in 1974 without carding a single bogey (the last time a player on Tour has gone bogey-free in a 72-hole tournament).
The tournament record for lowest winning score is 262 established by Chip Beck in 1988. And Kyle Reifers holds the 18-hole record for low score with his a 64 in 2007.
Thursday and Friday: Golf Channel 3-6 p.m. EST
Saturday and Sunday: NBC 3-6 p.m. ET
Thursday through Sunday: SiriusXM Satellite Radio 12-6 p.m. EST
Odds provided by Las Vegas PGA Tour Golf Betting Odds.
You can follow Pete on Twitter @TheGreekGrind