The Zurich Classic of New Orleans: The leading combinations in the PGA Tour’s only pairs event

TPC Louisiana again plays host to the event which rekindles the excitement of team golf.

It's rare that the PGA Tour breaks far from its regular routine.

72-hole strokeplay rules the roost, individual match play gets one week a year, team match play (the Ryder and Presidents Cup) get another.

And that's about it.

Five years ago the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a geographically confusing title if ever there was one, decided to mix things up a little.

Gone was the strokeplay format it had used since 1938 and in came a pairs format, alternating foursomes and fourballs throughout the week.

The latter version of the game is used in the first and third rounds - an opportunity for both player to complete the hole and gun for as many birdies as they can manage. Going low on those days matters.

Then, in rounds two and four, foursomes sorts the wheat from the chaff: alternate shot, no picking up, no apologies, no howling errors thank you very much.

The winning totals have been 27-, 22-, 26- and 20-under-par, highlighting the need to pile on the birdies and also maintain some momentum in the foursomes.

With the exception of the second round of the 2018 event (which witnessed tough conditions), ahead of last year each winning team has gone sub-70 in every round so a solid combo is essential.

But also note the conditions. Last year's winners, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith, thrashed 63s in the two fourball rounds, but 72 and 70 in the foursomes.

Let's take a closer look at the leading contenders.

Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa

The youthful power duo.

The Norwegian has six career wins, the Californian also has half a dozen - and two of his are Major Championships. Both were in good form either side of New Year, but have since then hit lulls. They'll be hoping this week kickstarts their summers.

Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele

The Major-chasing Americans.

Both in their late 20s, both Californians, both with spectacular CVs, both have somehow failed to win a Major yet. Schauffele had 12 top 25s in 19 Majors starts and has finished top three four times. Cantlay has only two top 10s in 20 starts at the Majors, but was a three-time winner last year.

Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith

The defending champions.

Good friends and proud to fly the Australian flag, they were dynamite when gunning for birdies in the fourballs and tight in the foursomes. Smith might be pleased he missed the cut last week after an exhausting near-miss experience at the Masters. He's also seeking a third win in this event, having claimed the first in 2017 alongside Sweden's Jonas Blixt.

Ryan Palmer and Scottie Scheffler

The veteran who the youngsters like partnering.

New Masters champion Scottie Scheffler would have been a hot ticket this week and the fact he plays with fellow Texas resident Ryan Palmer might be something of a surprise. But the veteran won this event in 2019 alongside Jon Rahm - the new stars appreciate his youthful vibes.

Sam Burns and Billy Horschel

The form guys.

Burns has 20 top 25s in his 33 starts since the start of 2021, three of them wins. Horschel has 16 top 25s and one win in the same period. They are also in their sweet spots. Burns's best golf comes on Bermuda greens and he hails from Louisiana; Horschel won this event when it was strokeplay (in 2013) and again alongside Scott Piercy in 2018.

Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia

The Ryder Cup stars.

Fleetwood has four wins, one half and one loss in Ryder Cup fourballs and foursomes, Garcia is a sensational 24-8-6. They also both need something of a boost. Garcia has finished top 40 in each of his last 40 events, but has just one top 10 in that run; Fleetwood has missed just one cut since last May, but has only one top five in that spell.

Ian Poulter and Shane Lowry

Ryder Cup stars #2.

The Irishman's form just trundles on. He's now landed eight top 15 finishes in his last nine strokeplay starts - and the exception was T24th. Poulter ended 2021 with sixth, started 2022 the same way, but hasn't finished better than T30th since.

Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira

Chile's new stars.

Niemann is undoubtedly one of the circuit's finest players, a winner of the Genesis Invitational in February and a fast starter (top seven or better in five of his last six strokeplay starts). Pereira is not in quite the form that vaulted him onto the PGA Tour last summer, but he has nine top 30s in 16 2021/22 starts.

READ MORE: Can Jordan Spieth land another victory in the final three Majors of 2022?

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