By Ron Patey
The PGA Tour lands in Louisiana this week for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. CBS Sports golf analyst Gary McCord looks over the field and dishes on last year’s winner Seung-yul Noh’s struggles and why he likes the chances for big hitters, such as Dustin Johnson. Jason Day and Justin Rose join Johnson in the field by as the event’s top ranked players.
Defending champion Seung-yul Noh’s best finish this year is a T11 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January, and he’s missed the cut in three of his last five events. What’s gone missing from his game? Has Noh showed signs of possibly repeating in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans?
Looking at his game this year, his greens in regulation stat is really down, so he’s not getting many birdie opportunities. If you’re missing lots of greens and chipping for birdies, your scores aren’t going to be good. He’ll have to recreate last year’s 19-under effort to defend his championship. But right now, he’s searching.
Last year’s FedExCup champion, Billy Horschel, won in New Orleans two years ago. What has caused his slow start this year, and could he get turned around this week?
Billy is off to a bit of a slow start, because I think he got worn out crawling over the $10 million he made when he won the FedExCup last year. He might have got a little tired. Right now he’s probably pulling up out of that death-defying jaunt over the money. He’ll be just fine. He’s a good player and is probably enjoying his mountain of cash.
Which of the top three ranked players in the field (Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose) has the best chance to win on this course?
All three have a very good chance on this golf course. They’ve had a ton of rain down there at TPC Louisiana, and the course is long at just under 7,500 yards, so it’s going to be a beater’s golf course. I have to go with Dustin Johnson. He’s hitting it farther than anyone on the tour right now, and he’s overall playing well. Justin Rose found his schtick at The Masters, and all three are great players, but Dustin is hitting it so far that he’s making these courses look like pitch and putts. The fairways this week are wide and there won’t be much roll, so it sets up well for the long hitters.
Why are fans not seeing Keegan Bradley contend for titles on a more consistent basis?
Basically, because he’s trying to figure out how to make it on the greens. He’s been going back and forth with the long putter and short putter. He’s searching right now, and he’s going to have to make the change to a non-anchored putter for good on January 1, 2016. Until he figures it out, he’s going to be wandering a little bit.
How does Steve Stricker look after returning from back surgery?
Well, he did play at Augusta, but I haven’t talked to him about the back surgery. If he’s playing, he’s obviously healthy. He doesn’t get too many starts, so there’s rust anyway; and since he’s rusty, he’s got to work on getting all the sequencing going. It’ll probably be a while before he gets sharp again.
What is your bold prediction for which player or players are surprise contenders?
There are a couple of good young kids out there. Daniel Berger is one, and it looks like he’s feisty enough, has the power and he’s not afraid of the pressure; so I like him. And Justin Thomas looks good, and so does Rickie Fowler, who’s played solid this year.
How would you characterize TPC Louisiana, and which holes pose the biggest challenges for players?
It’s wet and it’s below sea level. The players are going to shoot really low scores because it’s wet, and the distances aren’t going to bother them.
Ron Patey covered the golf industry for 21 years as a special sections editor with Sun Media. During the past five years, Patey has been a golf writer for Examiner.com.