World’s best golfers flock to New Orleans event for format

Golf


The food is great, and so is the ambiance. But that is not the reason 10 of the top 14 players in the world are entered in this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Bourbon Street and the French Quarter have always been a draw, but apparently not as strong as the format that debuted last year at the TPC New Orleans, which is proof yet again that something other than money, world rankings and FedEx points can get a player’s attention.

The team format is clearly the reason the likes of Masters champion Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson are teeing it up this week.

Reed (with partner Patrick Cantlay) is playing for the first time since his victory at Augusta National. Spieth, like last year, is teeing it up with Ryan Palmer. Fellow Alabama alum Bud Cauley has joined Thomas. Rose and Stenson — who finished first and second at the 2016 Olympics and have paired for Europe in the Ryder Cup — are back together again.

Why?

Many players tire of the week-in, week-out grind of 72-hole stroke-play tournaments. This is something different, something that allows for camaraderie — a best-ball, alternate-shot diversion that tests their games in a different way — and also serves as a nice primer for the Ryder Cup.

The format has been tweaked this year to have four-ball (best ball) on Thursday and Saturday and foursomes (alternate shot) on Friday and Sunday; it was the opposite order last year.

New Orleans tournament organizers introduced the format a year ago to rave reviews and it has carried into Year 2. Need more proof that going outside of the 72-hole stroke-play box can do wonders? There are no world ranking points available and FedEx Cup points are reduced, and yet it hasn’t stopped the tournament from getting a strong field.

There is no denying that 72-hole stroke-play tournaments are the proper way to decide championship winners, but there can be a few exceptions on the schedule. And the PGA Tour might be wise to try some of these during the fall events, which might expand when the schedule ends before Labor Day beginning in 2019. That would mean even more fall golf, where some ingenuity could prove beneficial.

Spinal fusion, one year later

In the days following his spinal fusion surgery on April 19, 2017, there is no way Tiger Woods could have envisioned the world awaiting his commitment to a random PGA Tour event.

But as we wait to see if Woods will play in next week’s Wells Fargo Championship — as well as the Players Championship a week later — it is notable how far he has come in a little over a year, when there was the possibility his career was over.

Following surgery, Woods endured a very public DUI, admitted himself to a rehab facility to deal with prescription pain medication, somberly admitted that he had no idea “what my future holds” and only started taking full swings with a golf club in October.

Six months removed from those first swings, Woods, 42, has played seven worldwide tournaments, with four top-12 finishes and two top-5s, including a runner-up at the Valspar Championship where he finished one stroke out of a playoff.

The fact that his tie for 32nd at the Masters was deemed “disappointing” is yet another indication of how far he has come, and how quickly expectations are ramped. As he proceeds, expect the usual amount of nitpicking that comes with every hole, round and tournament.

Scott continues to struggle. The 2013 Masters champion was ranked seventh in the world less than 18 months ago but has dropped to 64th after a missed cut at the Valero Texas Open.

Scott has not had a top-10 finish in nearly a year and is in danger of missing the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. He’ll need to be ranked among the top 60 in the world as of May 21 or on the Sunday before the U.S. Open. Short of that, Scott would be faced with sectional qualifying in early June.

The Aussie has played in 67 consecutive major championships, second only to the current active streak of 75 by Sergio Garcia. The last time Scott missed a major was at the 2001 Open.

“I’m trying to be really in tune with where my game’s at and identify why I’m just not having better results,” said Scott, who is scheduled to play the Wells Fargo Championship next week and the Players Championship. “To kind of change that, I’ve got to change something, otherwise I’m just going to do the same thing.”

The French Connection

A Ryder Cup in Europe needs no help creating excitement. That will be no different when the event goes to France later this year at a venue just outside of Paris.

Nonetheless, the event would be enhanced with a player from the home country. And perhaps Alexander Levy will qualify.

Levy won the Trophee Hassan II on Sunday, shooting a final-round 70 to overtake Alvaro Quiros for his fifth European Tour title. It was his fifth top-7 finish this year in six starts, moving him to ninth on the European points list and 15th on the world list.

The European Tour will have eight automatic qualifiers, taking the top four from a European Tour points list and the top four from a world points list. Levy seems a better bet to make the team via the European list, although he becomes an intriguing option for captain Thomas Bjorn as an at-large pick.

“I just need to follow what I did the last four months and we will see,” Levy said. “But I don’t have that in my mind. Just work and enjoy and play my best.”

A fine debut

Joaquin Niemann didn’t end his amateur career as he hoped — he missed the cut at the Masters — but the former No. 1-ranked amateur player in the world wasted no time in his professional debut at the Valero Texas Open.

Niemann, who is from Chile, shot a pair of 67s on the weekend to finish sixth, earning $223,200 and 100 non-member FedEx Cup points on the PGA Tour. The last is significant because at the very least, it figures to qualify him for the season-ending Web.com Tour Finals, where he’d have the opportunity secure one of 25 PGA Tour cards for the 2018-19 season.

But it also puts him in position to become a special temporary member this season. He needs 269 points for that, which allows unlimited sponsor exemptions. (For now, he is limited to 10.) By finishing in the top 10 at Valero, he earned a spot in the field next week at the Wells Fargo Championship. He is also expected to play at the Byron Nelson Championship and the Memorial Tournament.

Niemann has already shown an ability to play. He earned his spot in the Masters by winning the Latin America Amateur Championship earlier this year. And he won nine times worldwide last year, including four professional events in Chile.



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