Sobel’s 2021 Zurich Classic Live Adds: 3 Additions Before Round 2 Including A Longshot
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images. Pictured: Brendan Steele.
Entering this week’s Zurich Classic, my strategy was to target two-man teams with some offensive firepower who could post birdies in bunches during the best-ball rounds, then essentially hold serve in the alternate shot formats.
Then I changed my mind.
Or more precisely, my mind was changed for me – by the statistics.
During our Action Network podcast earlier this week, my co-host Justin Ray of the 15th Club (one of the smartest minds in the golf analytics game, in case you didn’t know), brought up a stat that I’d never seen before: In each of the previous three instances of the Zurich being a partnered event, the winning team either finished first outright or tied for first in overall alternate shot scoring for the week.
What does this tell us? Well, of course we should target teams which are more proficient in alternate shot.
There’s only one small problem with that plan. Other than the Ryder/Presidents Cup and this tournament, the world’s best players never compete in this format, so it’s impossible to know which teams will be best suited for it.
With one best-ball round already in the books and two alternate shot rounds still left to be played – including Friday’s second round and Sunday’s finale – we can lean a bit on those players who have competed in this tourney together in the past, as well as those who own some international competition experience.
Really, though, if the numbers helped us reach this conclusion, then we should similarly use the numbers to figure out which tandems might own the impending advantage.
I’ve always believed that the optimal best-ball teams are composed of opposite types of players, preferably a big hitter with a high dispersion rate of scores and a more accurate player who can avoid much trouble.
Contrarily, I’ve always thought the best alternate shot duos consist of like-minded players with similar strong suits who are accustomed to hitting shots from the same spots as their partners.
Let’s find three teams which could thrive in this format.
Brendan Steele/Keegan Bradley (+2000)
Following an opening-round 9-under 63 in best-ball, the price has been sliced in half on this pairing, but the numbers show there could still be some value here.
They are each elite drivers of the ball, with Bradley ranking 36th in strokes gained off the tee this season and Steele just a few spots further back at 44th. Each is also above average in wedge play from around the greens, ranking 57th and 59th, respectively.
This might be a stretch, but at least they’ve played this format together previously. Back in 2017, the first year of the Zurich as a team event, they failed to make the cut, but did post a 70 in this format, which was four strokes behind the leaders and tied for the 19th-best total of the day.
Tyrrell Hatton/Danny Willett (+3300)
During his ascendancy into the world’s top-10 over the past year-plus, Hatton has established himself as one of the game’s best ball-strikers, deadly accurate with his iron play, especially from longer ranges. That’s very much the strategy employed by Willett during his rise to become Masters champion five years ago. It can be argued – correctly, in fact – that Willett isn’t striking the ball nearly as well as he was then, but he’s still a guy who knows how to stiff a 7-iron from the rough.
Through one round, the English duo is lurking nicely. Their score of 7-under 65 has them just three strokes back, but a share of 16th place is enough to keep the oddsmakers off the scent for now.
Don’t be surprised if these guys bond over a few laser-beam approach shots in the second round, using their iron prowess to climb the board.
They might wind up being a bargain at 33/1.
Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown (+50000)
Other than perhaps Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, perhaps no pairing in this field has played more rounds of golf together in their lives.
Members of the same home club, Kisner and Brown are the anomaly in this tournament, having played together in all four editions now – with finishes of 2nd-15th-5th in the previous three years.
Each is a fairways-and-greens type of guy, although Brown’s season-long numbers don’t reflect that, which helps explain why he’s yet to play his best golf this year. They tend to excel in alternate shot, though, with five of six rounds in this event between 67 and 70; only a final-round 77 three years ago was above-par.
Standing in a share of 70th place after a 2-under 70, these guys have a ton of work to do over the final 54 holes, but eight strokes isn’t impossible to overcome. At 500/1, they’re worth a sprinkle.