To be frank, there is nothing Easy and everything Big about the TPC Louisiana, which is the site of this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The Pete Dye-designed course, which is nearly 7400 yards and has over 100 bunkers, is a definite challenge, and even though the winning score is always in double digits under par, the field is still high-quality, and it should be a fun week of golf down in the Big Easy.
The defending champion of this tournament is Bubba Watson, and being that he is only a few weeks removed from winning The Masters, the crowds following him around the course are surely going to be massive. Knowing that, tournament organizers put him with two of the bigger stars in the game, with Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson getting the honor of playing alongside him.
Watson is cruising so far during this season, currently residing in second place in the FedEx Cup standings, and he is especially hot as of late. In addition to his Masters victory, he finished in a tie for 4th place at Bay Hill (a tournament that Tiger Woods won), and he also finished in second place at the Cadillac Championship at Doral.
Being a new father hasn’t had any negative impacts on Watson’s game so far, and even though he did tweet on Wednesday that he lost four balls during the pro-am, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him be competitive again this week. It certainly won’t surprise anyone at the Golf Channel either, as one analyst made the apt description that Bubba is like “Corey Pavin, with 120 more yards of distance.”
There are a couple of other groups that will be worth watching in the tournament’s first two days. In addition to the Watson group, the group of 2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, and Ben Curtis should be an interesting one. Rose is a guy who hasn’t won a major despite having some serious game, and he may be able to learn a thing or two from McDowell and Curtis, who are both major champions. Curtis is also coming off a victory last week at the Texas Open in San Antonio, so you know he’ll be looking to continue his hot play.
Keegan Bradley’s group is also a fascinating one, as he is paired with the 2001 winner of this event, KJ Choi, and the world’s number two ranked player Luke Donald also joins the pairing. Donald has been struggling as of late with his accuracy with his irons, and being that he isn’t exactly the longest hitter of the golf ball, that may spell doom for his chances on this course.
And why would they do that, you may ask? It’s simple, actually. The TPC of Louisiana is actually the fourth most difficult course on Tour in relation to proximity to the hole on approach shots, and is actually the toughest course on Tour in approach shots from 200-225 yards. That may seem like a limited sample size at first blush, but you have to keep in mind this course’s prodigious length. It’s also the second most difficult from 175-200 yards, so a lot of approach shots are big time challenges to players in this event.
One more group that should be on golf fans’ radar is the one featuring Carl Pettersson (who won The Heritage a couple of weeks ago), who is playing alongside Ben Crane and Brian Gay.
Another player that bears keeping an eye on this week is Rickie Fowler. Yes, everyone has hyped this young man since he made the jump to the Tour after his career at Oklahoma State University, but that has yet to result in any wins, as he has finished in second place in four different events in his career.
The reason he bears keeping an eye on this week is because of his ability to play well when the wind kicks up, and it may just do that in New Orleans this week. He has always had the ability to keep the ball low and shape his shots when the weather starts to turn rough, and he has even been working more on his ball flight leading up to this event, as he revealed to Golf Channel on Wednesday.
Coverage of the event will begin at 3pm Eastern on The Golf Channel on Thursday, and over the weekend, the event will be televised on CBS.