AVONDALE — Though technical difficulties marred the online video news conference Wednesday from his home in The Bahamas, the message came through loud and clear from defending Zurich Classic of New Orleans champion Justin Rose.
In his mind, the annual PGA Tour stop at TPC Louisiana is “my fifth major.’’
“The whole story of New Orleans has a pull for guys to come and play, especially if you’re a 30s-kind of person,’’ said Rose, currently No. 8 in the world golf rankings after a 28th-place finish in last week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.
“It’s an incredible city that is so unique, so different to all the others. I think it provides a very different feel to most of the other PGA Tour events. Hopefully, guys embrace that.’’
At least two other members of the current top 10 in the official golf world rankings share Rose’s love for the Zurich Classic and Big Easy. Freshly minted No. 1 Jason Day and No. 5 Rickie Fowler are committed to play in the $7 million Zurich Classic of New Orleans that will run April 28 through May 1 at the 7,300-yard Pete Dye-designed layout.
Several other top 10 players are strongly considering the Zurich Classic, including Jordan Spieth, the 22-year-old two-time major champion and defending FedEx Cup champion.
If the golf gods smile favorably on the Zurich Classic in the coming weeks, the end result could be the best 156-player field since Fore!Kids Foundation CEO Steve Worthy was hired in 2011 to oversee production of the event, which makes an estimated $45 million impact on the local economy.
Additional commitments will be forthcoming as players finalize their schedules, which for many has evolved into a week-to-week process because of the tour’s wrap-around schedule and the inclusion of golf in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (Aug. 4-22).
For instance, Rose said he plans to play practice rounds this weekend at Augusta National in preparation for the Masters on April 7-10. Following the Masters, he will bypass the RBC Heritage (April 14-17) and Valero Texas Open (April 21-24) before competing in the Zurich Classic, Wells Fargo Championship (May 5-8) and The Players (May 12-15).
“It’s tough competition when Augusta and The Players are on either end of that stretch, but we’re going to have a very good field,’’ Worthy said. “The 2012 Zurich Classic was our best field since I’ve been here. From a rankings standpoint, it will be interesting to see how this year’s field shakes out.
“There are several guys who are 50-50, who, if we get their commitments, I would be very confident in saying, yes, this field would exceed 2012.’’
Spieth, who fell to No. 2 in the latest world rankings, has not played in New Orleans the past two years after receiving a sponsor’s exemption in 2013.
Other top 10 players who might be considering playing in New Orleans are 2011 Zurich Classic champion Bubba Watson (No. 4), Dustin Johnson (No. 9) and Patrick Reed (No. 10), who led University High in Baton Rouge to state championships in 2006 and 2007.
NOTES: This year’s Zurich Classic champion will pocket a New Orleans-record $1.26 million. ... Volunteers are still needed to work the week of the tournament. Visit zurichgolfclassic.com for further information. ... The Zurich Classic has raised more than $5 million for local charities in New Orleans and Baton Rouge the past three years, more than $30 million overall since the PGA Tour event took hold in 1958. Rose, 35, donated $25,000 of his winnings to Fore!Kids Foundation last year. ... Rose played his final 66 holes bogey-free en route to winning last year’s rain-delayed Zurich Classic by one stroke over Cameron Tringale. That included all 30 holes played Sunday when he was forced to play 12 holes to finish his third round before playing the final 18. ... All spots have been filled in the Monday and Wednesday pro-ams, Worthy said.