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Golf

5 Players To Watch At The 2013 Zurich Classic

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Players To Watch This Weekend

Jason Dufner
Derick E. Hingle - USA Today Sports

The 2013 Zurich Classic of New Orleans is set to get under way on Thursday at TPC Louisiana. At first glance, the field isn’t one of the year’s strongest, but several of the top players in golf are set to compete. For some, this will be a great opportunity to get back in the win column after some down weeks or time off.

Included in the field are just 15 players in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings, and 25 of the FedEx Cup’s top 50. Despite that, seven past champions of the Zurich Classic return to the event, and four others have already won on the PGA Tour in 2013.

How does the course set up? The Pete Dye track opened in 2004, and became host of the event in 2005. In 2006, the course sustained damage in Hurricane Katrina that forced the event away until 2007. Known as one of the longer courses on the PGA Tour rotation, four holes over 545 yards will be enough to challenge even the longest drivers in the game. Shorter par-4s, however, will offer scoring opportunities at the 399-yard 1st and 372-yard 8th. Over 100 bunkers and five ponds will challenge players’ ball-striking and accuracy, with water in play on seven holes.

So who will win? I’ve put together a list of five players I expect to make some noise this week. Two are former champions of this event, and one even has a major championship on his resume. Don’t be surprised to see any of them hoisting the trophy when it’s all over on Sunday.

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5) Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler
Jake Roth - USA Today Sports

Rickie Fowler has had success at TPC of Louisiana recently, having tied for 10th in this event last year. With three top 10 finishes in 2013 already, Fowler is playing solid golf, but will need to convert on scoring opportunities on par-4s to take the title.

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4) Billy Horschel

Billy Horschel
Christopher Hanewinckel - USA Today Sports

I was on the Billy Horschel bandwagon last week at the RBC Heritage and I'm staying with it this week. With three straight weeks in the top 10, he needs to be taken seriously. His skill with the putter has him fifth on Tour in birdie-or-better conversion, with 192 on 535 greens in regulation.

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3) Justin Rose

Justin Rose
Michael Madrid - USA Today Sports

Justin Rose is flying under the radar because of his limited schedule on the PGA Tour. He hasn't finished lower than 17th on either side of the pond, with the exception of the Masters. With a second-place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, Rose still ranks second in scoring average on Tour at an impressive 69.291.

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2) Jason Dufner

Jason Dufner
Derick E. Hingle - USA Today Sports

The defending champion at the Zurich Classic, Jason Dufner has yet to put together four solid rounds to gain a top 10 in 2013. However, he and Ernie Els set a four-round scoring record for the course at 19-under-par before their playoff. His par-3 performance this year leaves a lot to be desired, as he is +17 on the shortest holes this year. Short game could be the difference between a victory and a short weekend here.

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1) Bubba Watson

Bubba Watson
Michael Madrid - USA Today Sports

My favorite for this week is the 2011 champion of the Zurich Classic, Bubba Watson. As I wrote earlier this week, while he's struggled to stay in contention on the weekends, his putting is where he loses strokes and, in turn, tournaments. If he can get the flat blade under control this weekend, with the rest of his game as solid as it's been, he should be at the top of the leaderboard throughout the week. A victory here would set Watson up nicely to challenge for bigger events like the US Open.