Thursday, January 28, 2021

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Expert Picks: QBE Shootout

Let the fun begin.

Sunday marked the PGA TOUR’s final official round of the calendar year. That doesn’t mean golf is over until 2021, though.

In addition to this week’s European Tour finale and the U.S. Women’s Open, two dozen PGA TOUR players are competing in the QBE Shootout in Naples, Florida. It’s an opportunity for TOUR players to partner up for some competition and camaraderie.

The QBE Shootout will be played Friday-Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. A different format is in use each day. Friday’s first round will be a shamble. Modified alternate shot will be used Saturday. Sunday is four-balls.

We convened a roundtable to offer a quick look at some of the top teams at the QBE. 


Let’s get straight to it. Who’s your favorite to win?

CAMERON MORFIT: Having covered the QBE a couple of times, I can tell you it’s nearly impossible to predict, but I like the look of Abraham Ancer and Matthew Wolff. Ancer was in the hunt at the Masters until a final-round 76 dropped him back to a T13, and he just shot 65-66 on the weekend to finish T12 at Mayakoba. He was also a tough out in the Presidents Cup. Wolff had a couple of runner-up finishes in the fall and is up to ninth in the FedExCup. Plus, he can make a zillion birdies. 

BEN EVERILL: Get ready to be shocked. I’m going for the all-Australian duo of Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman. The pair have form together having been runner-up two years ago at the ISPS HANDA Melbourne World Cup of Golf – a tournament where only a tough start in freakish weather cost them the title. And this is a tournament run by an Aussie icon in the Great White Shark Greg Norman, an idol of Leishman’s particularly. The pair are great mates and will be relaxed and ready for fun. Smith comes off a runner-up at the Masters and while Leishman’s best hasn’t been on display for a while, this is just the environment he could need for a reboot.

SEAN MARTIN: I like the Florida-Georgia team of Horschel and Todd. Todd hits a ton of fairways, which will set them up well for alternate shot, and they both ranked in the top 30 of Strokes Gained: Putting last season. That’s an important skill in this low-scoring tournament. They’re both coming off top-10 finishes at the Mayakoba Golf Classic presented by UNIFIN, as well. Maybe they can bring together both sides of this long-standing college football rivalry while they’re at it.

ROB BOLTON: Leishman-Smith … Picking a winner is as hard as it would be to rule out any team, so I’m going to keep it simple. It comes with no apology to Ben for potentially stealing his Down Under thunder but give me his Aussies in the tag-team battle royale in the duodecagon.

JASON SOBEL: I’m not even sure the right team is favored in most sportsbooks. Tony Finau/Cameron Champ are atop many pre-tourney boards, but Abraham Ancer/Matthew Wolff feels like a deadly combo in these three formats. I can easily see them setting the pace in a scramble, then playing Heisman over the final two rounds and keeping the field at arm’s length. There aren’t many times a Sooner and a Cowboy can make for an uncontentious team, but I really like them here.

MIKE GLASCOTT: I’ll let my pal Ben handle Leishman and Smith but I’m comfortable riding with the Sea Island twosome of Harris English and Matt Kuchar. Their record together speaks volumes as they won or finished second every year from 2014 thru 2017. BUT THEN THEY SPLIT UP??? What? Why? Back together for the first time since the 2017 victory, I’m hoping the Christmas magic hits again!

OK, we covered the favorites, but which team is your FAVORITE. The one you’re most excited to see.

MORFIT: No one is going to have more fun than Harold Varner III and Ryan Palmer. HV3 is great company no matter what, and Palmer is a great teammate to have, especially given his winning history with Jon Rahm at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. I’m guessing this duo plays well, laughs often, and maybe even breaks out the Skittles.

EVERILL: I’m excited to see what Joaquin Niemann and Sebastian Munoz can put together. This young, energetic duo are seemingly always up for having fun and they have some stellar talent and a penchant for attacking pins and chasing birdies. I’m also excited to see the Abraham Ancer and Matthew Wolff duo. I enjoy both players styles and personalities and if I was onsite they’d be a team I’d love to watch.

MARTIN: A few come to mind. Champ-FInau for obvious reasons. Oosthuizen-Bubba because I have to wonder if the 2012 Masters playoff ever comes up. But I think ultimately I’ll pick Ancer-Wolff. They play contrasting games and we’ve seen them on leaderboards at this year’s majors. I could see them having a ton of fun, playing well and being Presidents Cup opponents in the future.

BOLTON: Berger-Stricker … Never mind that, at 53, Stricker is the only senior in the field. As a 50-year-old, he prevailed in 2017 (with Sean O’Hair) for his second QBE Shootout title. While he’s remained competitive on the PGA TOUR Champions since play resumed in June, Stricker also has recorded top 20s in his last two non-majors on the PGA TOUR proper, including a T17 this past Sunday at Mayakoba. Meanwhile, Berger has kept the pedal floored throughout 2020, so we get to watch him perform his magic on the bermudagrass greens of south Florida once more. (My close second is the Na-O’Hair team for the sole purpose that it’s a marriage of two guys who turned pro during high school.)

SOBEL:  If that opposing college pride is too much for you to overcome on your card, then Marc Leishman/Cameron Smith should be aligned more closely. The Aussie duo has largely spent the past half-year on opposite ends of the leaderboard, with Smith playing some of the best golf of his career and Leishman languishing, but the latter has found a little something lately.

GLASSCOTT: Champ and Finau. Two similar tee-to-green bombers won’t have to worry about anything except who’s golf ball they will be putting in play. Their yardages won’t differ much from playing their own balls so the alternate shot should be smooth, as long as one of them can keep it on dry land. Playing almost 7,400 yards, that should be an advantage.

And finally, let’s talk sleepers. Who is a team to keep an eye on?

MORFIT: Now that the Florida-Georgia football game is in the rearview mirror, Billy Horschel (Florida) and Brendon Todd (Georgia) might get along famously. Neither player is in the top 75 in the FedExCup, but Horschel is coming off a 65-64 weekend at Mayakoba, where he finished T5. Todd, who was the defending champion at El Camaleon, finished T8. It just feels like this team is playing well at the right time.   

EVERILL: I like the look of the Harold Varner III / Ryan Palmer team. Varner III can go on a birdie run with the best of them and Palmer has had success in team events having paired with Jon Rahm to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

MARTIN: Stricker-Berger. Winning a tournament alongside the Ryder Cup captain is a good way to help one’s candidacy. Berger has been one of the best players in the world since the Return to Golf, Stricker held his own against the kids last week in Mayakoba (T17) and his putter is always an asset.

BOLTON: Griffin-Hughes … Beware of underdogs. What Griffin has done in the last 15 months is remarkable, so that he’s teamed with the Canadian who himself has battled fiercely for a trio of podium finishes in the last nine months is perfect. These two arguably have doubted themselves more often, more recently and more deeply than everyone else in the field, so this clambake very well could feel much more like a competition instead of a reward.

SOBEL: They say opposites attract, and while sweet-swinging Daniel Berger and prodigious-putting partner Steve Stricker fit the bill, I’ll go with Lanto Griffin/Mackenzie Hughes at a slightly bigger number. Griffin is a very good ball-striker who can get exceptionally hot at times, while Hughes is rapidly becoming

GLASCOTT: I’ll second Stricker and Berger. The Ryder Cup captain always has his eyes open for wild card picks and this should be a great chance for Berger to impress up close and personal. These two should have no problem rollin’ in birdies all weekend. Stricker has plenty of big finishes on this track in this event as well.

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