Best bets for PGA Tour's Zozo Championship

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.

The host course Accordia Golf Narashino CC, designed by Kinya Fujita, is a par-70 measuring just under 7,041 yards. Unlike most par-70 courses, the course features five par-3s and three par-5s instead of the customary two par-5s and four par-3s. The front nine is a par-34 and the back nine is a par-36. None of the 10 par-4s measure between 425 and 485 yards. They are either short or long with little in between. 

The fairways and rough are Zoysiagrass while the greens are Bentgrass and will roll at a 10.5 stimpmeter.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY

2020: Patrick Cantlay (-23/265); 28-1; Sherwood CC

2019: Tiger Woods (-19/261); 33-1; Narashino CC

STATISTICAL ANGLES

We do not have any ShotLink data from the 2019 Zozo Championship, so it is a bit flying blind trying to find Strokes Gained stats. Nevertheless, SG: Approach is never a bad place to start. 

Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 36 rounds)

1. Collin Morikawa 38.6

2. Kyle Stanley 30.5

3. Xander Schauffele 25.9

4. Henrik Norlander 24.6

5. Jhonattan Vegas 24.3

6. Carlos Ortiz 24.2

7. Keegan Bradley 23.8

8. Matthew NeSmith 22.1

9. Emiliano Grillo 21.4

10. Will Zalatoris 20.3

Greens In Regulation was one of the few stats tallied for the last Zozo event in Japan. The top two finishers, Woods and Matsuyama, ranked third and seventh for GIR.

GIR Gained (Last 36 rounds)

1. Will Zalatoris 47.6

2. Jhonattan Vegas 41.4

3. Keegan Bradley 33.6

4. Luke List 33.4

5. Collin Morikawa 31.5

6. Kyle Stanley 28.6

7. Kramer Hickok 26.4

8. Carlos Ortiz 25.6

9. C.T. Pan 24.6

10. Xander Schauffele 24.6

The rough here is not all that penal, but you still do not want to put it in the trees. Good Drives Gained measures drives where the player either hits the fairway off the tee or misses the fairway but still hits the green or fringe in regulation.

Good Drives Gained (Last 36 rounds)

1. Brendon Todd 34.1

2. Alex Noren 33.8

3. Kyle Stanley 29

4. Collin Morikawa 28.6

5. Kramer Hickok 27.5

6. Keegan Bradley 26.7

7. Will Zalatoris 25.4

8. Emiliano Grillo 21.6

9. Carlos Ortiz 20.5

10. KH Lee 20.2

All three par-5s measure in the range of 550-600 yards. 

Strokes Gained: Par-5 550-600 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

1. Jhonattan Vegas 13.7

2. Cameron Tringale 13.2

3. Henrik Norlander 12

4. Collin Morikawa 11.2

5. Luke List 10.7

6. Brandon Hagy 10.2

7. Chan Kim 9

8. Garrick Higgo 8.7

9. Erik van Rooyen 8.7

10. Pat Perez 8.3

The Narashino greens are a slower Bentgrass. Woods and Matsuyama ranked 1-2, respectively, last time here with hot putters during the tournament week.

Strokes Gained: Putting Bentgrass (Last 36 rounds)

1. Brendon Todd 29.9

2. Alex Noren 27.8

3. Cameron Tringale 24.5

4. Troy Merritt 24.1

5. Adam Schenk 23.5

6. Mackenzie Hughes 21.2

7. Xander Schauffele 18.6

8. Pat Perez 16.8

9. Andrew Putnam 12.6

10. Tommy Fleetwood 12.4

SELECTIONS

Will Zalatoris 20-1

Zalatoris missed the cut last time out at the Shriners. The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year tops this week's field for GIR Gained. 

He was one of the few top 30 players to skip the CJ Cup last week, but a week off could be beneficial here. 

Jhonattan Vegas 35-1

Vegas ranks top 5 in this week's field for both SG: Approach and GIR Gained. He also ranks No. 1 for SG: Par-5s (550-600) yards.

Vegas finished a respectable T-16 in the Olympic Golf competition earlier this summer.

Maverick McNealy 35-1

McNealy finished midpack last week in a home game at the Summit Club. Perhaps playing at home, including in front of his 94-year-old grandmother for the first time, got to him a bit.

Since he has been on tour, McNealy has been best on shorter tracks that he can plot his way around, such as Pebble Beach, where he has finished fifth and second, and Hilton Head, where he finished fourth last season. 

Keegan Bradley 40-1

Bradley finished fourth on the PGA Tour for SG: Approach and has continued that form into the fall series. 

He finished 13th here two years ago. Bradley also has solid enough form in Asia with a runner-up finish at the 2017 CIMB Classic and a sixth-place finish at the WGC-HSBC in 2018.

Bradley was 32nd last week at the CJ Cup but ranked 22nd in the field for putting, which has been his weakness throughout his career. Ball strikers who struggle with the putter like Corey Conners, Byeong Hun An and Gary Woodland finished top 8 here two years ago. 

K.H. Lee 53-1

After earning his first PGA Tour title at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, Lee has continued to play solid golf. He’s missed just four cuts in his last 13 events, picking up five top-25s in the process. While just 25th last week at the CJ Cup, he was ninth in the top-class field for SG: Approach. 

Lee also played predominantly on the Japan Golf Tour from 2012 to 2015, so he is experienced in this part of the world. 

Harry Higgs 73-1

Higgs finished T-9 at last week's CJ Cup. He ranked second (behind winner Rory McIlroy) for SG: Putting and 10th for SG: Approach, so he should like these Bentgrass greens like he saw last week.

After a tough summer, Higgs has made five of his last six cuts with three finishes in the top 16. 

Brendon Todd 105-1

Todd leads this week's field for Good Drives Gained and SG: Bentgrass Putting. 

While the greens this week are Bentgrass, they are very smooth and resemble Paspalum greens like those at Mayakoba, where Todd won in 2019.

Mallorca Golf Open

Matt Fitzpatrick had a rough weekend at the Ryder Cup four weeks ago as he went winless (0-3) for the second time in the team event. However, he kept it together in a battle of attrition on a tough course at Valderrama to win the Andalucia Masters at 12-1 by three strokes over Min Woo Lee and Sebastian Soderberg. Fitzpatrick is one to watch in the future on tougher setups with less of a premium on length off the tee. 

The three-week Spanish swing on the European Tour concludes this week with a trip to Mallorca in the Mediterranean for the Mallorca Golf Open. Without Jon Rahm and Fitzpatrick participating like they did last week, this is a watered-down field. Thomas Pieters (16-1) has three top-10 finishes this year but is attempting to earn his first victory in more than two years. Laurie Canter (20-1) had a three-shot lead on Fitzpatrick last weekend after 54 holes, but a 5-over 76 dropped him to a T-4 finish. 

Andrew "Beef" Johnston (18-1) played solid last week at Valderrama but never challenged and finished T-15. Sam Horsfield (22-1) makes his first appearance on the Spanish swing while Spaniard Adri Arnaus (22-1) plays his third week straight in his native country after finishing T-2 in Madrid and missing the cut by 10 shots last week at Valderrama. Ryan Fox (22-1) was T-4 last week at Valderrama and is still seeking his first European Tour victory in continental Europe. 

THE EVENT

The Mallorca Golf Open is a one-off event that takes this week's schedule spot from the Trophee Hassan II event annually played in Morocco but was canceled due to COVID-19. This tournament will be the first European Tour event to be played in Mallorca since the Iberdrola Open in 2011.

THE COURSE

Golf Santa Ponsa in Mallorca will play host this week. Mallorca is the largest island in the Balearic Islands, which are part of Spain and located in the Mediterranean. It is a popular holiday destination particularly for British and German travelers. This week's course sits on the southwestern part of the island that overlooks the famous party island of Ibiza. 

The course can play to 7,155 yards for a par-72. Opened in 1977 and designed by Folco Nardi (together with Pepe Gancedo), Golf Santa Ponsa I covers an area of 73 hectares and is a long course with lakes and a great variety of trees (olive, pine, almond etc.). It appeals to all kinds of players courtesy of the wide fairways and the tees as hitters of all lengths can have success. 

The last European Tour event hosted here was the 1998 Turespaña Masters won by Miguel Ángel Jiménez at just 9 under par. 

SELECTIONS

Adri Arnaus 22-1

Despite last week's missed cut at Valderrama, Arnaus has been in the top 4 in four of his last seven events in Spain. 

Arnaus ranks sixth on the European Tour for SG: Putting. 

Ryan Fox 23-1

The Kiwi finished T-4 last week at Valderrama, which is not a course that necessarily sets up great for him.

He tends to be at his best on coastal-type tracks, which is what we have this week.

Wilco Nienaber 35-1

The 21-year-old South African rates first on the European Tour in driving distance, averaging over 324 yards off the tee. 

His putting has been on the upswing, too. He ranked fifth on the greens in his last start and second in his previous start — a sixth-place finish at the Open de Espana.

Alejandro Cañizares 60-1

Canizares finished T-25 last week at Valderrama but ranked fifth in the field for SG: Approach.

The Malaga resident has two top-3 finishes over the last two and a half months. 

Niall Kearney 66-1

Kearney finished T-4 earlier this season in the Canary Islands Championship held on Spanish soil.

Since that finish on the Canaries, Kearney has three top-12-or-better finishes. 

The Irishman ranks first on the European Tour for Bogey Avoidance and second for Scrambling. 

Jack Senior 95-1

Senior posted his best finish of 2021 just two weeks ago with a sixth at the Open de Espana. 

He enjoys playing golf in this part of the world. Adding his recent performance in Spain to fourth- and fifth-place finishes on the Iberian Peninsula during his time on the Challenge Tour.

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