Sobel: Pairings with the Chemistry to Contend at Zurich Classic
Luke Franke/Naples Daily News via USA TODAY NETWORK
Earlier in the week, I wrote this piece comparing two-man Zurich Classic teams with corresponding NBA playoff teams. It was fun, it was silly, it was probably even a little stupid.
But that underscores a greater theme at this event: It’s all about the partnerships.
Beginning last year, the annual New Orleans tourney injected a much-needed spark, becoming a two-man team event. It was wildly popular, with the energy carrying over to this year’s edition, as 10 of the world’s top 14 players are competing, this time infused with walk-up music for their first-tee entrances.
It will be fun, it will be silly. But no, it won’t be stupid.
(The only stupid thing this week is that none of the major DFS providers is offering any competitions. Even though you could pair players together and price them in the same manner. Even though you could score best-ball/alternate-shot format … just as usual. Ridiculous.)
All of which leads to the one question you’re all wondering: How do we analyze this one?
Right off the bat, I’m viewing these teams from the same perspective as playing a match at your local muni. The guys who are buddies and have played together a lot generally should thrive; those who were set up on a “blind date” by agents or sponsors will presumably lack some chemistry.
Just check out these comments from last year’s runner-up tandem, Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown.
“We play together quite a bit at home,” Brown said last year. “We kind of sneaky practiced for this event.”
“We know each other’s games so well,” Kisner added. “We’re comfortable with each other.”
See? That solves it. These guys are great friends and they contended, so that’s the big secret formula.
Uh, not quite.
Just as Andrew Landry and Satoshi Kodaira busted all analytical models the past two weeks, last year’s Zurich champions, Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith, negated the idea that only close buddies can play well together.
“We haven’t known each other that long,” Blixt admitted after their victory.
Score one for the unknown commodity.
Even so, I’m going back to the well this week. The players who ultimately play the best will be the ones who have the most fun, and it stands to reason that the ones who have the most fun will be those who know each other the best.
With that in mind, let’s get to the picks. I’ll cover my tourney winner, a few top-five/10 props, a head-to-head matchup and a few guys I’m fading.
After everything I wrote above about Kisner and Brown, did you really think I could pick against them?
The two of them aren’t just friends. They play practice rounds together — both at PGA Tour events and back home in Aiken, South Carolina — and share a swing coach.
All of which makes it surprising that their odds are +3500, tied for 15th on the board, barely ahead of the Charley Hoffman-Nick Watney pairing and right in line with the Billy Horschel-Scott Piercy tandem.
In this format, be less concerned with current form and more aware of team chemistry. Kisner and Brown should have plenty of it — not to mention a little unfinished business after last year’s playoff loss.
Conventional wisdom tells us the nature of this format should ensure variance, meaning we should stay away from the favorites.
Sorry, but I just can’t help myself.
I was standing next to Ryan Palmer as Jordan Spieth approached the greenside bunker in the Travelers Championship playoff last year. Beverage in hand, he whispered to me, “Watch this. It might go in.” Of course, it did.
Palmer’s an obvious fan of his fellow Texan, but the respect here is mutual. He might not be exactly Mark O’Meara to Spieth’s Tiger Woods, but it’s in the same ballpark.
After last year’s fourth-place finish, I expect them to be right back in the mix again and like their +230 odds for a top-five finish.
Following a pair of top-fives last week, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (+145 for top-10) will be a popular pick as they combine forces.
While I don’t dislike that one, I’m looking for more value here.
Scott Stallings has fallen off his early pace, but is still enjoying a nice year. Aaron Baddeley is similarly playing well, and the two buddies should make a formidable duo. Top-10 (at a tasty +700) feels like an attainable goal here.
Lucas Glover and Chez Reavie have enjoyed nice seasons to date, but this pick is less about fading them and more about liking their opposition in this matchup (posted at the Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook).
Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly (-110 in this matchup and pictured above) are a pair of wily Wisconsin vets who have known each other’s games for the better part of three decades.
But that’s not all: The cheeseheads teed it up together last week, finishing T-5 in the PGA Tour Champions’ Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf event . That’s a built-in advantage their younger peers won’t have.
Horse for the Course
Good luck trying to figure out course specifics on a track that switched last year from individual play to the team aspect.
Looking back to 2016, though, we find Byeong Hun An, who posted a “final-round” 65 (it was weather-shortened to three rounds) before losing to Brian Stuard in a three-man playoff with Jamie Lovemark.
An will play in the Twitter-friendly pairing with Kevin Na (+3800 to win), which leaves plenty of extra characters to discuss the rest of the field.
If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck …
No, I’m not talking about El Pato, Angel Cabrera, who actually finished T-5 last year with Julian Etulain.
What I mean is this: If it seems like a pairing of strange bedfellows, well, it probably is.
For all I know, J.B. Holmes and Brandt Snedeker have forged an ironclad friendship in recent years and spend every night gossiping on the phone — but I don’t think so. That duo feels a little contrived.
Same goes for Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar, who obviously have the talent to play well together, but feel like a mismatched pair.