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Sam Burns and Billy Horschel14/1
It’s a rare thing that an event will have a one-and-done.
However, in the case of this week’s Zurich Classic, there is such an interesting and forceful case for one particular pairing in this team event that I’m happy to have the total event stake riding on their strangely compatible backs.
Played originally as a standard 72-hole singles competition, organisers have run the event as a pairs tournament since 2017. Whilst many will assume this has lessened the quality of winners, the champions throughout the years have been of the higher level, going from the likes of Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros, through Vijay Singh, Bubba Watson and Justin Rose, all major winners.
Changing to a pairs event has seen serious major contenders Cam Smith and Jon Rahm combine with Jonas Blixt and Ryan Palmer respectively, before Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele teamed up for a comfortable victory last year.
Even a brief look at the winners sees a trend. The names above, plus Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen (runners-up 2022), Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia (runners-up 2019), Phil Mickelson (twice runner-up) and 2011 champion Bubba Watson all scream an Augusta connection, whilst some of those, plus Billy Horschel, Bubba and Rahm again and Kevin Kisner all have a serious form record at the WGC Match Play event held at Austin GC.
The defending champions come here in significant form, with Cantlay finishing 14th at the Masters and third at Harbour Town and Xander finishing 10th and fourth at the same events. However, apart from a final-hole defeat to Rory McIlroy in a ridiculously low shoot-out in Texas, those finishes are the worst they could have expected. It wouldn’t be too harsh to say that, despite the elite nature of the events, one of these should have turned into a ‘W’.
For that reason, at 3/1, I’m out.
Amongst the stars, there is a lot of moderate fayre, as well as some strange pairings.
I like/love Sahith Theegala for his swashbuckling style, something that suits low-scoring team events such as the QBE he won alongside Tom Hoge at the end of 2022. However, for whatever reason that I can’t really be bothered to find out, he is with Justin Suh for the week. Talented and promising, but not enough at less than 25/1.
Don’t mess about and put your faith in the proven pairing of Sam Burns and Billy Horschel at a bigger price than the impossible-to-win-with Sungjae Im and Keith Mitchell, and twice the price of Collin Morikawa and Max Homa, both seemingly off-the-boil and who have never threatened in any of their seven tries between them.
The case for the defence starts with 36-year-old Horschel.
The fiery Floridian beat Scottie Scheffler 2&1 in the 2021 final of the WGC Match Play before qualifying from his group at both the two most recent runnings, and his Louisiana record is even better.
Champion here in 2013 in a singles event, Horschel teamed up with Scott Piercy to win the pairs event five years later, beating Pat Perez and multiple major top-10 player Jason Dufner.
13th when defending, he then teamed up with Burns to finish fourth and second over the last two seasons, his more controversial nature seemingly soothed by the more laid-back local 26-year-old.
Actively vocal in his protests against the breakaway LIV organization, he’s also been involved in some recent chat-back to the crowd, and this type of more relaxed event could easily produce a less tight attitude.
Not that this bothers Burns, who said before last year’s tournament, that, “If he [Billy Ho] gets running too hot this week, I’ll just go give him a hug and calm him down a little bit.”
It’s not just his easier nature that does it – recent form is excellent, and all points to another top performance on a Pete Dye/Bermuda track.
Four of Burns’ five PGA victories have been on Bermuda grass, with none of his back-to-back victories at the Valspar, nor his Sanderson Farms and recent Match Play win showing a round of above 69 – he is the King of this stuff.
Don’t let it stop there. For his nap hand, Burns defeated world number one Scheffler in a play-off at Colonial, the same player he beat up in the semi-finals of the recent Match Play, before thrashing Cameron Young (seventh at the Masters) 6&5 in the final.
The world number 12, of course, played well enough in just his second outing to Augusta, lying in the top six at halfway before the gruelling conditions saw him drop to just inside the top 30, whilst he was rewarded for last week’s journey to Harbour Town with a 12 birdie blitz through his last two rounds, eventually finishing 15th from a halfway 46th.
In an event with lots of dead wood, and with pairings that rely too heavily on one member, we will all be hugging Billy (and Sam) by Sunday night.