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AVONDALE, La. – The two-man team format saved the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and 13 of the top 25 signed up to play in 2017, the inaugural year of the concept. In 2018, the Zurich landed 11 of the top 15 and last year nine of the top 13. That’s strong considering it is traditionally slated during the post-Masters hangover.

Tournament director Steve Worthy boasts that the last three winning teams included four of the top six players in the world.

This year, however, the deck was stacked against him. Four of the top eight in the world and nine of the top 20 are here – but Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler opted to take their spring break this week and Masters champ Jon Rahm, who is defending another title next week at the Mexico Open, took a much-needed rest. Once you get past the likes of defending champion Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele and a handful of Zurich ambassadors such as Collin Morikawa, the field falls off fast.

When the schedule for this season was announced, Worthy knew he was in a tough spot – seven out of 10 designated events came before the Zurich this year, including two in a row the weeks prior.

“I’m an LSU football fan,” Worthy said, “you can recruit as hard as you want, but at a certain point you’re going to get some guys and not get others.”

“Truth be known, our field probably exceeded my expectations,” Worthy said, noting reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and Presidents Cup star Tom Kim among the blue-chip players they landed.

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This year always was meant to be a bridge year as the PGA Tour responds to the existential threat of LIV Golf. The Tour laid out its plan for eight designated events with limited fields, no cuts and super-sized purses. Beginning next season, there will be the varsity and the J.V. or call it the Power Five conferences and Boise State fighting the good fight. Worthy said he’s still hopeful that the Zurich Classic can be elevated.

“We’re certainly having conversations about it,” Worthy said. “They feel like it’s probably three or four months from getting there. The Tour is talking to all the sponsors who are interested, what all the options are, see how it fits the schedule and how they can make it work.

“We’d like to be elevated. A lot of tournaments would like to be. If we can continue to do the right things as that process is ongoing over the next several months, hopefully we’re putting ourselves in the right position to end up where we want to be,” Worthy said.

There’s more tournaments that would like to host a designated event than windows for such events to be played, which is a good problem for the Tour to have. In a perfect world, Worthy would like to continue the team format and all the momentum that it’s created. But it seems unlikely a tournament that doesn’t give out world ranking points or earn a ticket to the Masters, and where players hit half the shots will get approved for one of the elite events.

The PGA Tour in New Orleans dates to 1938 and has been played in the Big Easy every year since 1958. It’s not going away but it likely will have to continue to play up its niche as a break from the monotony of 72-hole stroke-play competition, attract the foodies and pamper the wives, who have a say in these matters.

“I think the non-designated events are going to hold their own,” said Billy Horschel, a Zurich ambassador and two-time tournament champion. “I think this one’s a great example. This one’s a great field. You’ve got players always wanting to play together. It’s unique.

“How this is all going to play out? It’s still sort of a wait-and-see game. It’s going to be two, three, four years of us doing this to see if it was the best thing for the PGA Tour and the product going forward.”

Expect the Tour’s lone team event in the FedEx Cup season to be just that — a good team player. It will have to fight for every thing it has, but then again, the Zurich Classic wouldn’t have it any other way.

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