Sobel’s 2021 Zurich Classic Picks, Preview, Format: Target Team Chemistry and Birdie-Makers in Paired Event

Sobel’s 2021 Zurich Classic Picks, Preview, Format: Target Team Chemistry and Birdie-Makers in Paired Event article feature image

In many parts of the country, we are firmly entrenched in #MemberGuestSZN – and the PGA TOUR is no different.

Professional golf’s equivalent of your own annual two-player hit-and-giggle will take place at this week’s Zurich Classic for the first time in two years and it’s already been suggested that this could be one of the least predictable tournaments on the schedule.

I’d argue the complete opposite.

First of all, there are only 80 teams in this week’s field, meaning fewer spots on the leaderboard than even the most recent edition of the Masters. It doesn’t take an expert to understand that picking 1-in-80 should be much easier than 1-in-156.

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Secondly, there’s a greater disparity between competitors with teammates involved. Allow me to use a very loose analogy: Let’s say you’re a 10-handicap and you’re playing straight up against somebody who’s scratch. That’s a tough proposition, but maybe, if you play your best golf and the opposition plays their worst golf, you can win. Now consider two 10-handicaps against two scratch players. The divide between the two is going to be even greater.

None of that is to suggest that anyone in this week’s field is a 10-handicap, of course, but in partnered play, the haves have a little more and the have-nots have a little less.

Lastly, the nature of this beast tends to limit the allure of specific course specialists.

All of the usual metrics are still suitable when attempting to handicap a two-man team event. Strokes gained off the tee is important, because it can keep both partners in each hole; strokes gained on approach shots is important, because it can lead to each player having birdie opportunities; and strokes gained putting is important, because every team has twice the chance of making one on every hole.

So yes, your betting selections this week should include those tandems in which both players drive the ball very well, are tremendous iron players and make an inordinate amount of putts. Good luck with that.

In three previous editions of this tourney as a team competition, we’ve essentially run the gamut of possibilities for winners.

Year Team Odds Betting Choice
2017 Jonas Blixt/Cam Smith 100/1 33rd
2018 Billy Horschel/Scott Piercy 40/1 18th
2019 Ryan Palmer/Jon Rahm 16/1 4th

For my money, there are two schools of thought in strategizing your betting targets this week.

The first is to go after team chemistry. Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown, who finished second to Blixt and Smith in ’17, have probably played more golf together than any other partnership. Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen fit this profile, too. No offense to the duos of Rasmus Hojgaard/Vaughn Taylor or Kyle Stanley/K.H. Lee, but it’s fair to wonder if or when that chemistry will develop.

The other plan this week is target offensive firepower. Two of the four rounds are best-ball format (the other two are alternate shot), so piling birdies in R1 and R3 is going to be necessary in order to have a chance on Sunday afternoon.

My picks start with a team which might still be working on that chemistry, but should have plenty of firepower.

Outright Winner

One team to win the tournament.

Bubba Watson and Scottie Scheffler (+1600)

When the pairings were first released, this is the one that struck me as a partnership with potential. There’s not much to say about Scheffler, who’s risen to 21st in the world ranking and appears on the verge of a first career win very soon. Watson might have a reputation as “doesn’t play well with others,” but it isn’t a deserved one.

In six stints on the U.S. Ryder/Presidents Cup team, he owns a 9-8-1 record in partnered matches, which isn’t remarkable, but supersedes that rep. In fact, while unquantifiable, Bubba owns the sort of personality which offers more motivation when alongside a teammate rather than competing as an individual. For a couple of players who can ham-and-egg birdies for the 36 holes of best-ball format, this could be the team to watch all week.

Other OADers

Potential selections for one-and-done options.

  • Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay (+650)
  • Brendon Todd and Chris Kirk (+2500)

There are plenty of different ways for OAD pools to treat this tourney. In one OAD that I’m in, it’s used as a midseason reward to the most successful entrants so far, with a “draft” of teams from top to bottom and nobody with the same pick. In another OAD, it’s the opposite, with the worst team drafting first, like the NFL.

And in yet another, entrants simply choose one player and they’ll get his teammate, too; for example, you can pick Ryan Palmer and let Jon Rahm come along for the ride without having to burn him as a pick.

Your choice this week should be heavily impacted by the pool rules. If you have a chance to grab the tourney near-faves in Schauffele and Cantlay without anyone else getting ‘em, that seems like an intelligent plan of attack. If you pick later in the draft or just want to differentiate, Todd and Kirk might go overlooked for a lack of that firepower I wrote about above, but they should form an excellent team for alternate shot in R2 and R4.

Top-Five

One team to finish top-five.

Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley

Somewhat quietly, BFFs Steele and Bradley have each put together some impressive results so far this year. Steele hasn’t missed a single cut and owns a pair of top-five finishes; Bradley has cashed checks in six straight, with three top-25s during that span. Even better, they own some of what we’re looking for from each category – they have chemistry, often playing practice rounds together, and they each make a lot of birdies.

Top-10

One team to finish top-10.

Jason Kokrak and Pat Perez

If you find yourself in New Orleans this week and want to find a fun duo to watch on the course, you could do a lot worse than these guys, who will undoubtedly have a blast playing together. This is another team that checks both boxes for this week. 

Top-20

One team to finish top-20.

Richy Werenski and Peter Uihlein

He’s fallen off a bit lately, with three consecutive MCs, but Werenski was playing really well to start the year, with four top-25s in his first seven starts, so he’s not that far from being in form. He’ll get the lucky honor of playing with last week’s KFT winner, suggesting our decade-long wait for Uihlein to reach some level between PGA TOUR excellence and competence could be on the horizon. Consider this an under-the-radar team which could cash some props this week. 

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Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer

Let’s not overthink this: Rahm and Palmer are two of the better players in this field, they won two years ago and they can each make a bunch of birdies. What else do you need?

DFS ‘Dog

A lower-priced option for DFS.

Justin Suh and Doug Ghim

In the first year of this event’s team format, Blixt and Smith used a victory as motivation for a two-year exemption, the same one which comes with individual wins. Suh and Ghim should each have long tenures in the big leagues, but a massive week could help launch their careers a little quicker.

First-Round Leader

One team to post the low score Thursday.

Josh Teater and Sepp Straka

There are a whole lot of variables involved when trying to pick a two-man team for low score during the first round of the best-ball format, so let’s go with one that has a bigger price next to its name. Teater ranks 17th in R1 scoring average this season; Straka is 42nd. They can each make a handful of birdies, as well, without worry that a big number will hurt the team.

You’re going to have to take some chances this week and this feels like one worth pursuing, both for FRL and maybe top-20 props.

Matchup Men

One team who should beat comparable players.

Billy Horschel and Sam Burns (+2500)

Three years ago, Horschel won with an above-average ballstriker in Piercy; now he gets a chance to become the first player in this tourney’s short history as a team event to win with two different partners. Burns should have some extra mojo in returning to his home state, as he was born and raised in Shreveport and was national player of the year at LSU. 

The Big Fade

One top team to avoid at this tournament.

Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff (+1400)

One of the pairings with the most juice is this one of a couple of young twenty-somethings, which has been serving as one of the headliners whenever this field is discussed. They played a lot of golf together – and against each other – during their SoCal upbringings, so it’s a natural partnership. However, Morikawa is on his third week of three in a row, fresh off playing in the final pairing at the RBC Heritage.

Wolff’s issues are pronounced, including some WDs and, in his most recent start, a DQ from the Masters after signing an incorrect scorecard for what would’ve been an MC anyway. Expect this team to be one of the bigger drawing cards, but it’s a tough one to back this week.

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