You’re not going to see riveting emotional swings and chilling tension like at a Ryder Cup when 12 two-player teams tee it up this week for the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club. Players don’t live and die with every single shot when it’s the last unofficial event of the PGA Tour calendar year. What you will see, however, is aggressive team play, calculated gambles, and players showing a bit more of their personalities in this mixed-format tournament, and that’s what makes QBE so much fun for players and fans alike.
Formerly known as the Shark Shootout and Franklin Templeton Shootout, the QBE is staged over three days and features a scramble format during the first round, a modified alternate shot format on Saturday and a final-round better ball on Sunday. Teams will duke it out on Tiburon’s par-72, 7,288 yard Gold Course, a Greg Norman-designed track that’s relatively flat and forgiving with wide open fairways and very little rough. However, it’s not a grip-it and rip-it pushover by any stretch of the imagination. Water hazards play a big role on 13 holes, stacked shell-wall bunkers and sprawling waste areas present a real challenge and are difficult to avoid, and large undulating greens offer up a variety of different pin placements and a stern test of the short game.
Defending champions Matt Kuchar and Harris English have won this event two times in the past four years and finished runner-up twice. Lexi Thompson, who played alongside Bryson DeChambeau last year and was the first LPGA pro to compete in this event since Annika Sorenstam in 2006, will team up with Tony Finau, making them a formidable duo off the tee. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson joins forces with Brandt Snedeker, who won here in 2015 with Jason Dufner. While Zach Johnson and Charley Hoffman, Kevin Kisner and Kevin Chappell, and Pat Perez and Brian Harman partner up to form other notable teams in this 3-day, 54-hole, stroke play event.
Note on Formats
For anyone not familiar with the formats, here’s a quick overview. On Friday for the first round, a scramble (or best-shot) format will be used. Each player from their respective teams will tee off on each hole, and the players will decide which shot was best. Every player then plays their second shot from within a club-length of where the best shot comes to rest (and no closer to the hole). That’s repeated until the hole is finished. For the second round on Saturday, the modified alternate shot format (known as greensomes) is used, and follows the same format as foursomes (where teams use only one ball per team and take alternate shots until the hole is completed). The modified aspect exists because both players will tee off on every hole with the better ball chosen, and then alternate strokes are played to complete the hole. Finally, on Sunday, better ball (four-ball) is the format. Here, each golfer plays their own ball from where it lies throughout the round, and a team’s number of strokes for any given hole is that of the lower scoring team member.
Tiburon opens with a risk-reward hole right out of the gate. The par-5, 573-yard, No 1 tempts long hitters to go for the green in two with a big drive. Hugging the right side of the fairway is imperative as a huge lake menacingly protects the left side. Overcook it off the tee and a watery grave awaits. Second shots must still carry the water, as well as a large waste bunker protecting the front of the putting surface, and precision is required as the green is generally small. Less aggressive players who choose to lay up with their second shots will take the water out of play and leave themselves with a short wedge into the green.
Aiming left of the fairway bunker on the par-4, 428-yard 4th hole is the ideal shot off the tee, and will leave players with a clear window into the green. The large, rolling green complex is protected by a lake that extends along the entire left side of the hole, while a hostile sod-wall bunker guards the right. The safe play on approach will target the center of the green, as players who attack pin positions tucked on either side will have little margin for error.
The 175-yard, par-3 No. 8 is the shortest par-3 on the course, but also the most difficult. Protected by a lake with sod-wall bunkers on the left and waste bunkers on the right, the 8th can be a nightmare depending on wind conditions and pin placement. A high fade to the right-center of the green is the smartest play. Left side pin positions will be especially demanding, as the green slopes to that side with a steep collection swale that can leave players with a tricky up-and-down.
Teams will be looking to pick up shots on the reachable, par-5, 534-yard No 17. With water lurking down the entire right side, staying left off the tee is all-important. On approach, a large bunker complex protects the front and right sides of a green that’s severely undulating. Players laying up have the option of avoiding strategically placed approach bunkers short of the green or hitting longer and left of the green into generous collection areas. From either position, it’s a relatively straightforward pitch onto the green.
Teams to Watch
Team Kuchar-English is a heavy favorite with a strong event pedigree in the books. Two wins and two second-place finishes almost makes this team a juggernaut. Clearly, Kuchar and English click in this format and are on this course. English has never played with anyone but Kuchar. Kuchar’s brilliant short game, English’s solid ball-striking, and both player’s current form make them a no-brainer. Team Kuchar-English to finish top-5.
Team Watson-Snedeker is an interesting pairing. Snedeker won here in 2015, and this year Brandt’s accuracy paired up with Bubba’s prodigious power off the tee seems like it should be a potent pairing. Neither player, however, enters play in fine recent form. Watson’s finished outside the top-50 in his two appearances for the new season, while Snedeker finished T-29 at The RSM Classic, and he’s still not at 100-percent after battling a troubling sternum injury for more than 20 weeks. Both players could definitely use a great performance to give them momentum heading into a new calendar year, but it’s more likely they’ll need to regroup during the offseason before things get better. Team Watson-Snedeker to finish in the bottom-5.
Team Lexi-Finau has the power to rip apart Tiburon, and both players are coming into play in excellent form. Finau barely missed winning the Safeway Open and has three top-20 finishes in three starts this season. Lexi’s clutch putt on No. 17 at the Solheim Cup forced the match to continue, and her heroic iron into the 18th green set up the emotional U.S. comeback. Both Thompson and Finau are quiet superstars who speak softly, carry a big driver, and should have a great chemistry. There’s plenty of good energy with this pairing, both are well suited to this format, and have proven they have what it takes to succeed on the world stage. Team Lexi-Finau to make history this week and win the QBE Shootout.