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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Buddy up with best mates Cauley and Thomas

Rose and Stenson may not hole enough putts

Justin Thomas is the best player in the field
1 of 1

Sky Sports Golf, from 1pm Thursday

Masters champion Patrick Reed returns to action this week for the second Zurich Classic pairs event, partnering Patrick Cantlay in a dream team which is 14-1 for victory. The latest Green Jacket owner does not boast Zurich favouritism though – successful Ryder Cup colleagues Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson top the market at 9-1.

Palmer's top tip
B Cauley & J Thomas 12-1
Some Zurich Classic pairings are difficult to understand and the chances of them successfully gelling for four days seem remote, while others look like a match made in heaven. The combination of Bud Cauley and Justin Thomas emphatically fits the latter category.

These two great friends, housemates in Florida over the last few years, both attended the University of Alabama and both won on the Tour in 2014. Cauley is still awaiting his maiden US Tour title, but Thomas has gone on to become a colossus of the sport. The USPGA champion, FedEx Cup winner and eight-time US Tour victor can lead this dynamic duo to glory at TPC Louisiana.

Thomas is the highest ranked player in this tournament and he has been in rude health all season, winning the CJ Cup in October and the Honda Classic in February, before losing a playoff for the WGC-Mexico Championship. A run to the semi-finals of the WGC-Match Play followed, then he struck his ball well again at the Masters, sharing 17th place with a cold putter.

An essential spell of battery-recharging since Augusta should see Thomas return to action with a spring in his step, and he will be desperate to help his less successful pal bank a cheque for more than $1m on Sunday. Not that Cauley is a makeweight in this partnership. Far from it.

Cauley has found form at the perfect time to make a strong contribution to the cause. Six top-20s have been recorded this season, including at Bay Hill five weeks ago and in Houston at the start of this month. A share of 23rd spot in the Heritage last time out was decent, too, and Cauley finished 11th in his final appearance in the Zurich when it was an individual strokeplay event.

Thomas finished 12th in his only visit to the Zurich for individual competition. Last year, Cauley and Thomas teamed up for the inaugural Zurich pairs event and closed with a spectacular 61 for fifth place. Expect a faster start this time as they quickly establish themselves as the side to beat.

Accurate approach-play is the key to success at TPC Louisiana. These two pint-sized powerhouses can unleash long drives with confidence on the wide fairways, then let their deadly irons and wedges take over.

Next best
P Cantlay & P Reed 14-1
The main threat to Cauley and Thomas may come from the no-nonsense Patricks pairing – Cantlay and Reed will doubtless wear fierce expressions throughout and not crack smiles until the trophy is in their possession. It is all business with Cantlay and Reed, two players bursting with determination and confidence. Cantlay has made it clear he wants to be world number one as soon as possible, while Reed has been discussing the possibility of a 2018 Grand Slam in post-Augusta interviews.

A fascinating duel could unfold over the weekend between Cauley and Thomas, a cheerful couple who will make birdies for fun, and Cantlay and Reed, an angry, ruthless pair looking to win at all costs. Both sets of players are on offer at surprisingly juicy prices for an event bursting with chaff.

China Open preview

Cantlay is one of the most promising players in the world and can be expected to land a second US Tour title soon. The quality of his ball-striking in the Heritage last time out, where he finished seventh, indicates Reed has a partner he can rely on from tee to green. The long-game class of Cantlay allied to the short-game wizardry of Reed is a fearsome combination.

One sloppy round cost Cantlay and Reed together in the Zurich last year – a Saturday 75 – but they still finished 14th and carry more self-belief to the mission this time. Cantlay has become a US Tour winner, Reed has become a Major champion.

Others to note
J Rose & H Stenson
These two have starred together in the Ryder Cup, but they missed the cut in the Zurich last year and may not hole enough putts to justify their market leadership.

R Palmer & J Spieth
A fast-finishing third place at Augusta has restored confidence to Jordan Spieth, but he is handicapped by an average partner in Ryan Palmer.

R Cabrera-Bello & S Garcia
The Spaniards were unbeaten together in two outings at the last Ryder Cup, beating JB Holmes and Ryan Moore in the fourballs, then halving with Reed and Spieth in the foursomes. Dangers.

W Bryan & J Rahm
The best Spaniard in the world – Jon Rahm – teams up with his massively out-of-form buddy Wesley Bryan.

M Kuchar & B Watson
The steady, calm plodder and the enigmatic, fiery slugger are like chalk and cheese. It is difficult to see a happy union.

S O'Hair & J Walker
The Texas Open last week advertised the claims of Sean O'Hair and Jimmy Walker, who both contended and have arrived in Louisiana in good nick. Can be fancied to sneak a place.

Staking plan
B Cauley & J Thomas
3pts each-way 12-1 general
P Cantlay & P Reed
2pts each-way 14-1 BoyleSports

The lowdown

Course TPC Louisiana, Avondale, Louisiana
Prize money $7.2m ($1.022m per person to the winners)

Length 7,425 yards Par 72 Field 80 teams of two

Format This is a four-day team event, with no individual prize. The pairs will play best-ball competition (both players play their own ball, with only the best score on each hole counting towards the 72-hole total) in rounds one and three, then alternate-shot competition (one player in the team hits a shot, then the other player, until the ball is holed) in rounds two and four. That is the opposite of last year when alternate-shot opened proceedings

The cut The top 35 teams and ties will qualify for round three

Course records – 72 holes individual 266 Justin Rose (2015) 18 holes 62 Ben Martin (2014); 72 holes team 261 Jonas Blixt & Cameron Smith (2017) 18 holes alternate-shot team 66 Jordan Spieth & Ryan Palmer (2017), Kyle Stanley & Ryan Ruffels (2017) 18 holes best-ball team 60 Retief Goosen & Tyrone van Aswegen (2017), Scott Brown & Kevin Kisner (2017)

Course winners taking part (individual strokeplay) Nick Watney, Andres Romero, Jerry Kelly, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Billy Horschel, Justin Rose, Brian Stuard

Course winners taking part (team) Jonas Blixt & Cameron Smith

When to bet By 1pm Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 1pm Thursday
Time difference Louisiana is six hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – Texas Open 1 A Landry (150-1), T2 S O'Hair (150-1), T Mullinax (150-1), 4 J Walker (50-1), 5 Z Johnson (50-1), 6 J Niemann (300-1), 7 R Moore (28-1)

Course overview The TPC was designed by Pete Dye in 2003 and it made its US Tour debut in 2005. It staged its second Zurich Classic in 2007 (Hurricane Katrina ravaged the track in 2006) and has been the tournament's venue ever since. The event was an individual strokeplay competition until last year.

The rough is fairly light and there are fewer trees to negotiate since the hurricane, but five water hazards and more than 100 bunkers keep the players on their toes. The par-fives (the second, seventh, 11th and 18th) are all in range and excellent chances for birdie.

The 18th is the most difficult of the quartet, though, with a large lake down the right side. The 482-yard par-four fourth hole and the 215-yard par-three 17th are traditionally the most difficult. The 16th is a risk-reward, driveable par four of 348 yards, with water in front of the green

Story of last year The event ran into a fifth day, with Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith finally seeing off Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner on the fourth extra hole of a playoff

Weather forecast Light breezes throughout, peaking on Sunday. A Thursday thunderstorm is expected, with some more showers on Friday, before a clear, sunny weekend

Type of player suited to challenge Greens in regulation is the theme which runs through the victors at TPC Louisiana, and finding the right sections of the heavily undulating dancefloors is the key to going low.

Quality approach-play is the key to success. The new team element favours players who have competed in the same format in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. Those with the same partner from last year can be fancied to settle quicker

Key attribute Accuracy

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Cauley has found form at the perfect time to make a strong contribution to the cause
E.W. Terms
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