Spieth Seeks Third Straight Strong Finish At Zurich Classic

Zurich Classic Getty Images

(AP) Jordan Spieth suspects he could be on the cusp of a banner year. That's why he's trying to strike the right balance of fun and focus when he teams up with good friend Ryan Palmer in New Orleans this weekend for the Zurich Classic. 

Spieth said he might see some music, considering the city's renowned Jazz and Heritage Festival also is this weekend. He's certain he'll have some memorable meals. He might even take Saints coach Sean Payton up on an invitation to be in New Orleans' ''war room'' during the NFL draft, as he did last year. 

But when he's on the TPC Louisiana course, he also wants to capitalize on the momentum he gained with top-three finishes in his past two events, the Houston Open and the Masters. 

''I finally feel like I got the short game back on track in Houston and Augusta. And to hit some of those putts under pressure and see some go in I think will be very beneficial going forward,'' Spieth said Wednesday. ''It could very well be a spark for a really solid year. I'm very pleased after the last couple tournaments I played.'' 

This marks the second year that two-player-teams have competed at the Zurich Classic, held on a par-72, 7,245-yard course carved out of cypress swamps to the southwest of New Orleans. This year's tournament, which begins Thursday, has a $7.2 million purse - $1.04 million and 400 FedExCup points each for the winners. 

The unusual format, combined with the allure of the Big Easy, seems to be a hit with numerous accomplished pros. 

The Zurich is the first tournament since the Tour Championship last September with a field including the reigning champs of all four majors, including Spieth, who won last year's British Open. 

Patrick Reed expects a sizeable, boisterous gallery, and not just because he's fresh off of being fitted for his first green jacket as Masters champion. He went to high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his wife attended college at LSU. So he'd be a fan favorite anyway. 

''It can get pretty rowdy. We can use that to our advantage,'' said Reed, whose teammate is Patrick Cantlay. ''It's going to be a lot of fun. ... Hopefully, we can give them a show.''

Many eyes will be on reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who is returning from a left wrist injury that kept him off the Tour for 15 weeks. 

''It feels like I've been out for six months,'' Koepka, who'll play with Marc Turnesa, said last week. ''I still have confidence. I feel like I can win.'' 

Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, has teamed with Bud Cauley a second straight year. They tied for fifth last year, and they believe chemistry played a part in their strong showing. 

''We've played a lot of golf together, spent a lot of time together, shot a lot of games of pool together,'' Thomas said. ''Unfortunately, this isn't a pool tournament. Might like our chances more. ... We're going to have a good time this week.'' 

Many teams have been founded not just on friendships, but regional or college affiliations. Those include the Spanish team of 2016 Masters champ Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello. Other examples include Australians Jason Day and Ryan Ruffels; South Africans Retief Goosen and Tyrone Van Aswegen; and South Koreans K.J. Choi and Charlie Wi. 

Bubba Watson, who attended college at Georgia, has joined former Georgia Tech player Matt Kuchar. Spieth and Palmer are both Texans, although Spieth was a Texas Longhorn and Palmer a rival Texas A&M Aggie. 

In other cases, it's simply good friends from opposite sides of the world, such as the defending champs, Cameron Smith of Australia and Jonas Blixt of Sweden. 

''Obviously, we bonded pretty well last year, just being able to give each other a pat on the back or a slap across the face when the time was right,'' Smith said. 

Organizers made one considerable change this year; on the final day, the format will alternate shot instead of best ball. The move raises the stakes of each shot on the final round, and could lead to more drastic changes on the leaderboard. The first and third rounds will be best ball this year. 

Spieth said teams could be four of five shots behind heading into the final round, ''and certainly still in it in an alternate shot format. But in best ball it's probably too difficult to overcome.'' 

Copyright © 2018 TTWN Media Networks LLC Photo: Getty Images

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