By Ian Ransom
(Reuters) – Internationals captain Ernie Els had hoped the Zurich Classic would double as a team bonding event ahead of the Presidents Cup but ‘the Big Easy’ may have felt a little queasy after most of his prospective players flopped at the tournament.
The week started with 11 of the top 15 players in the Internationals’ Presidents Cup standings teeing off in New Orleans at TPC Louisiana but only four made the cut.
Those who played the weekend finished well behind the winning pair of Spaniard Jon Rahm and American Ryan Palmer, who claimed a three-stroke victory with a 26-under total of 262.
The Internationals are expected to lean heavily on local knowledge when they battle the United States at the Dec. 12-15 tournament at Royal Melbourne, so the high-profile pairing of Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott had been keen to fire.
Instead, the major winners and former world number ones missed the cut by a stroke at seven-under after an even-par 72 in the second round’s foursomes.
The pair were among the large part of the field whose opening rounds were disrupted by a seven-hour weather delay but Day said they could hardly blame their performance on the early starts needed to make up the lost time.
“We did have the tougher side of the draw, but there’s no excuses,” Day said. “We just needed to come out and play well, and unfortunately, I think we just didn’t have the momentum going.”
South African Louis Oosthuizen, second in the Internationals standings, also had a short week, crashing out with a 78 in the foursomes with compatriot Charl Schwartzel.
Australian number two Cameron Smith, partnered with Swede Jonas Blixt, was cut at six-under, with Internationals hopefuls Kim Si-woo and C.T. Pan also having an early exit with their respective partners at three-under.
‘MOUNTAIN IS HUGE’
At least things went smoothly away from the course, with a number of the Internationals booked at the same hotel and the team enjoying a dinner in the French Quarter earlier in the week.
“It was a another stepping stone for us as a group of International players to kind of get to know each other and have some fun,” Trevor Immelman, one of Els’s captain’s assistants, said.
“The weather delays curtailed some of that because guys are getting back at 8:30 p.m. and waking up at 4 a.m. the next morning and being gone all day.
“Once the tournament kicked off, we were all just scrambling to get some sleep. But definitely the early part of the week was awesome for us.”
Of the players ranked in the Internationals’ top 15 who made the cut, Canadian Corey Conners had the best week, finishing tied for 30th with compatriot Mackenzie Hughes, 11 strokes behind the winners.
Conners was a stroke better than South African duo Branden Grace and Justin Harding, who finished tied for 32nd.
United States captain Tiger Woods and world number one Dustin Johnson skipped the event but a number of their compatriots with Cup ambitions played and performed well.
Kevin Kisner was tied for fifth with fellow American Scott Brown, while Billy Horschel finished tied for 13th in his title defence with Scott Piercy.
“Obviously, the mountain is huge,” said Immelman.
“The American team is stacked – household names, major winners, they’ll probably have Tiger Woods on the team — so we’ve got our work cut out for us no doubt.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)