After a scraggly dud of a tourney at TPC San Antonio where the victor still won’t be recognized at sports bars (no offense to Ben Curtis), The PGA Tour heads to the bayou this week for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.  The tourney boasts 4 of the world’s top 10 players (Luke Donald, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose and Steve Stricker) as well as a host of other top names including Nick Watney, K.J. Choi, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy, Graeme McDowell, Carl Pettersson (self-proclaimed fat man in a little coat) and others.

Last year, despite saying at the beginning of the week that the course didn’t fit his eye, (yep that’s Bubba being Bubba), Bubba averaged a #BubbaGolf like field-leading 331.2 yards off the tee and hit a ho-hum 58 of 72 greens in regulation, as he went on to defeat Webb Simpson in a playoff for the victory.  This marks the first start since his Masters victory in which Bubba murdered an albatross with his gap wedge.

The TPC Louisiana course officials have stretched the par-4 13th hole from 377 to 403 yards, so that it is no longer “driveable.”  Yes, it is a sharp dogleg left so that it doesn’t play its full yardage, but the funny part about the stretch is that Bubba will be one of a handful that still may be able to reach the green from the tee if the wind is right.  The course now measures 7,425 yards and typically ranks as one of the more difficult on Tour (scoring average of 72.1 ranked seventh-most difficult of the par 72 non-majors on Tour last year).  No doubt about it, it’s going to be an exciting week of golf.

Now, on to some picks.

Contenders:

Matt Every– We picked him here to win last week at TPC San Antonio and he came oh so close in finishing t-2nd.  Every missed the cut here last year, but with 4 top tens this year, he is still smoking hot with confidence (pun intended for those who know where I’m coming from with that).  I expect another good week from Mr. Tippy Toes.

Graeme McDowell– This seems to be the time of year when the Northern Irishman’s game really starts to heat up.  After a solid t-12th at the Masters, he now has four top 15s on Tour this year in just six starts, as being 21st in greens in regulation certainly helps.  Expect to see last week’s Golf Channel’s Morning drive co-host around the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday.

Justin Rose– His t-8th at the Masters was his third top 10 in his last five events, including a win over the top field at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.  I definitely expect another solid week out of the American resident, UK native, born South African 31-year-old.

Sleeper:

Bud Cauley– Becoming less and less of a sleeper, the PGA Tour rookie has now notched top 20s in 4 of his last 5 starts.  Bud went to college at nearby Alabama and will no doubt have a good fan base supporting him in NOLA this week.  Seems like no matter where he tees it up he’s finding his way into contention, and it will only be a matter of time before the 22-year-old curly cue hoists his first trophy.

Winner:

Jason Dufner– We picked the big dipping Auburn goose to win at Harbour Town, and despite blowing up to a 1st round 78 in the worst of the conditions on Thursday morning, Duf fought back with 66-67-73 over the next 3 rounds to finish t-24th, for his sixth top 25 of the year already.  In his last 3 starts here at TPC Louisiana, Duf has finished a salty t-3rd, t-7th and t-9th.  Given his top form this year, his great history at the course and a week off last week to recharge the batteries, I definitely could see the goofy and melpy looking Duf hoisting his first PGA Tour trophy on Sunday afternoon.

Zurich Classic of New Orleans coverage begins on Golf Channel at 2pm Central on Thursday.  Enjoy the action everyone!

Joel Harrington