Best bets for PGA Tour's Zozo Championship

By Wes Reynolds  (VSiN.com) 

reynolds

Rory McIlroy drove for show (second in Shots Gained: Off-The-Tee) and putted for dough (first in SG: Putting) to win the CJ Cup at Summit in Las Vegas last weekend. McIlroy, at a price as high at 22-1, earned his second victory in 2020 and 20th career win on the PGA Tour (lifetime PGA Tour exemption) by shooting 25 under par, which was one stroke clear of Collin Morikawa, who gave it a go with a Sunday 62 but came up one shot short to provide this column with a runner-up for the second consecutive week. 

While McIlroy takes the week off, Morikawa (7-1) heads to Japan for the Zozo Championship, which returns to the Land of the Rising Sun after having to be played in the United States last year due to COVID-19. Morikawa is the second choice on the odds board behind Xander Schauffele (13-2), who won Olympic gold in July the last time he was in Japan. Speaking of Japan, reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (14-1) was the runner-up to Tiger Woods in this event two years agot. 

Will Zalatoris (20-1) makes his first trip to Japan off a missed cut at the Shriners in Las Vegas, but he’s now a full-fledged member of the PGA Tour. A trio of players follow in the market at 25-1, including Joaquin Niemann and Tommy Fleetwood, who saw two fellow Englishmen and Ryder Cup members of Team Europe in Matt Fitzpatrick and McIlroy get off the schneid last weekend with victories. Rickie Fowler (25-1) had the 54-hole lead at Summit last weekend before finishing T-3, his best finish since a T-2 at the 2019 Honda Classic and leading the field for SG: Off-The-Tee and SG: Tee-To-Green. Defending Zozo champion Patrick Cantlay is not in the field this week.

THE EVENT

The Zozo Championship began in 2019 as the first PGA Tour event ever sanctioned in Japan (co-sanctioned with the Japan Golf Tour). It is held at Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba, Japan, which is about 90 minutes outside of Tokyo. Due to the co-sanctioning with the Japan Golf Tour, there is a sizable contingent of Japanese players in the field like last week's CJ Cup, ordinarily held in South Korea, which had a contingent of players in the field from the Korean Tour. 

This week's no-cut field features 78 players based on these criteria:

Top 60 available PGA Tour players from the previous season's FedEx Cup standings.

Top seven players in the current season Japan Golf Tour money list through the Bridgestone Open.

Top three players in the Bridgestone Open.

Eight sponsor exemptions.

The inaugural Zozo Championship in 2019 was won by Tiger Woods. That win gave Woods his 82nd PGA Tour victory, which still has him tied with Sam Snead for the most on the all-time list. Last year's Zozo was held at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., due to COVID-19 restrictions and concerns in Japan. 

With a $9.95 million prize fund, it’s the richest tournament of the fall portion of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season.

THE COURSE

The Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, which opened in 1965, is just outside of Tokyo. Set to the east of the world’s most populous city near Chiba, Narashino CC has three sets of 18 holes, namely the King, Kuko and Queen courses.

The Zozo Championship will play a composite layout on what is a typical Japanese course. The course is a tree-lined parklands, featuring plenty of doglegs and small putting surfaces. Another Japanese golf course design feature is that many of the holes at Narashino feature two greens. Zozo likes to use these for the tournament, with different greens used on different days, and this will be a feature on the par-4 fourth hole. If a player finds the wrong green during tournament week, he will get a free drop under a “wrong green” ruling to the nearest point of relief.

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