Best bets for PGA's Zozo Championship

USATSI_15086604

Zozo Championship

 

It took 233 career starts, but Jason Kokrak is at last a PGA Tour winner. At 80-1, Kokrak (-20/268) won the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek by two strokes over Xander Schauffele, a runner-up for this column, by leading the field in strokes gained putting at + 10.3 over four rounds. Kokrak is a 50-1 choice to win in back-to-back weeks. As for Schauffele, last weekend marked his eighth runner-up finish on the PGA Tour in the last four years, two more than Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka at six each. Rounding out the top were Russell Henley, Tyrrell Hatton and Talor Gooch.

 

The two-week swing through Las Vegas is now over, and the PGA Tour will head west to Thousand Oaks, Calif., for the Zozo Championship. This is ordinarily held in Japan but has been moved stateside due to COVID-19. Johnson holds the course record of 61 at this week’s venue, Sherwood Country Club, where he and father-in-law Wayne Gretzky are members. But Johnson is a scratch just like last week with a positive COVID-19 test. World No. 2 Jon Rahm once again opens as the tournament favorite at 10-1. Schauffele, with the low tournament score at Tour Championship plus a top-5 at the U.S. Open and his runner-up last week over his last three starts, follows at 11-1. Justin Thomas (12-1) and Rory McIlroy (14-1) hope to rebound from poor final rounds last weekend. Hatton, who won the BMW PGA Championship two weeks ago on the European Tour, has gone third and first in the last two weeks and shares a 20-1 price with Webb Simpson. Collin Morikawa and Patrick Reed, returning from a brief sojourn to Europe and a third-place finish at the BMW PGA, round out the top contenders at 25-1.

 

As for defending champion Tiger Woods? He is listed at 33-1 and returns to action for the first time since the U.S. Open. But he returns to a course where he has won five times and finished second five times at the World Challenge, which he hosted at Sherwood from 2000-13.

 

The Event

 

The Zozo Championship began in 2019 as the first PGA Tour event sanctioned in Japan (it was co-sanctioned with the Japan Golf Tour). It is usually held at Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba, Japan. Due to the co-sanctioning, a sizable contingent of Japanese players dot the field. 

Here is how this week’s 78-player field is made up:

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

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

— Top three players in the Bridgestone Open.

— Eight sponsor exemptions.

The sponsor exemptions include Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Satoshi Kodaira. Even with Johnson’s withdrawal, eight of the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 10 and 21 of the top 25 are here in what will likely be the last start for many players before the Masters in November. Like last week’s CJ Cup, this is a no-cut event with the smaller field. The players are competing for an $8 million purse.

 

The Course

 

Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., has hosted many pro events but has never hosted a sanctioned PGA Tour tournament. Sherwood is an original Jack Nicklaus design that opened in 1989 with a minor makeover in 2016. It plays as a par-72 of just 7,073 yards and has a unique makeup of five par-5s and five par-3s with just eight par-4s. Four water hazards are in play over eight holes, but this is a highly scorable track with all par-5s reachable in two and a drivable par-4. The undulating Bentgrass fairways have plenty of runout. The greens are also pure Bentgrass, are very large at about 6,500 square feet and are on the faster side at 12 on the Stimpmeter. This is widely considered a shotmaker’s course. 

While Sherwood gets a different spotlight this week, it has been prominently featured for many pro events, including the Shark Shootout, a team-play event hosted by Greg Norman from 1989-99; the World Challenge, hosted by Woods from 2000-13; the Invesco QQQ Championship on the PGA Tour Champions starting in 2016, and the Showdown at Sherwood, the first live prime-time match between Woods and David Duval in 1999. 

Sherwood is also notable for a membership list that includes many celebrities from the entertainment and sports worlds, such as Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Craig T. Nelson, Sean Connery, Justin Timberlake, Mel Gibson, Kevin James, Jane Seymour, Tom Selleck, Caitlyn Jenner, Will Smith, Kenny G, Kevin Sorbo, Scott Hamilton and Wayne Gretzky. 

Here are some other Nicklaus designs that feature on the PGA Tour:

— Annandale Golf Club, Sanderson Farms Championship through 2013.

— Glen Abbey, the 2008, ’09, ’12, ’15 and ’16 RBC Canadian Opens.

— Montreux GCC, Barracuda Championship.

— Muirfield Village, Memorial Tournament.

— PGA National, Honda Classic.

— PGA West, Tournament Course, The American Express.

— PGA West, Nicklaus Private (Humana Challenge through 2015).

— Valhalla Golf Club, 2014 PGA Championship.

 

Recent History

 

Zozo Championship:

2019: Tiger Woods (-19/261), 33-1*

* —  played at Narashino CC

World Challenge Winners at Sherwood:

2013: Zach Johnson (-13/275)*

2012: Graeme McDowell (-17/271)

2011: Tiger Woods (-10/278)

2010: Graeme McDowell (-16/272)**

2009: Jim Furyk (-13/275)

2008: Vijay Singh (-11/277)

2007: Tiger Woods (-22/266)

2006: Tiger Woods (-16/272)

2005: Luke Donald (-16/272)

2004: Tiger Woods (-16/268)

2003: Davis Love III (-11/277)

2002: Padraig Harrington (-20/268)

2001: Tiger Woods (-15/273)

2000: Davis Love III (-22/266)

* —  playoff win over Tiger Woods

** —  playoff win over Tiger Woods

 

As you can see, this course has not tended to favor any certain type of player. Longer hitters like Woods and Love have won here, and shorter hitters who are excellent ball strikers like Zach Johnson, McDowell and Furyk have also prevailed. 

 

Selections

 

Xander Schauffele 11-1

 

We go back to the well for another time with Schauffele. He has three top-5s in his last three starts. Schauffele has made 92.6% of his putts between 4 and 8 feet in those starts, including the U.S. Open. He has also been on the first page of the leaderboard after each of his last 12 rounds. 

He carded a + 2 Saturday after shooting -14 over the first two rounds. Schauffele rated third in last week’s field for strokes gained putting and fourth for strokes gained tee to green. If he would have just found a couple more fairways last week, he would have won the CJ Cup. 

 

Webb Simpson 45-2

 

Simpson has six top-20s and three top-10s in his last seven starts. He is also one of the few players in the field with tournament experience on this course, having played the World Challenge several times. 

While not played on a Nicklaus design, the RBC Heritage can certainly be seen as a good parallel to the Sherwood, considering players like Furyk, McDowell and Love have won both events and other Sherwood winners like Luke Donald and Zach Johnson have been runners-up at the RBC Heritage.

 

Matthew Fitzpatrick 40-1

 

Fitzpatrick finished 12th last week after posting a seventh in England at the BMW PGA Championship.

The putter, his best club in the bag, didn’t really fire last week, but he was seventh for shots gained: approach, and this is the type of course where power off the tee is a bit negated, which falls right into his wheelhouse. A third this summer at the Memorial on the Nicklaus-designed Muirfield Village also catches the eye. 

 

Daniel Berger 40-1

 

Berger has certainly cooled from his torrid early summer form. Nevertheless, this could be a good spot for him. He is not in November’s Masters field since he won at Colonial after the field was cut off, so he can just focus on winning tournaments.

He tied for third at the RBC Heritage.

 

Joaquin Niemann 50-1

 

Niemann finished sixth at the CJ Cup for his second top-6 finish in his last five events.

The youngster from Chile was eighth last week for shot gained: approach and sixth for shots gained tee to green. Niemann also finished top-5 at the RBC Heritage, which could indicate potential success here.

 

Kevin Na 105-1

Na made both cuts but disappointed in the two home appearances in Las Vegas, so this may be a good time to buy on the drift. Sherwood should be more his speed.

He has a runner-up at Muirfield Village as well as a ninth this summer. The RBC Heritage has also been shown to be a solid indicator for this course, and he has five top-10 finishes in that event. 

 

Italian Open

 

Adrian Otaegui shot a 9-under 63 to win his first stroke-play event on the European Tour at the Scottish Championship last weekend at a price of 50-1. Otaegui (30-1 this week) won by four strokes over Matt Wallace, who will go off as the odds-on favorite at 10-1 for the second consecutive week. Martin Kaymer and Victor Perez, the runner-up to Tyrrell Hatton two weeks ago at the BMW PGA, follow at 12-1. Bernd Wiesberger (16-1) is the defending champion of this event, though on a different course. Lee Westwood (18-1) rounds out the top five atop the market. 

 

The Event

The Italian Open was founded in 1925. While there have been a couple of event hiatuses, the tournament has been part of the European Tour schedule each year since the tour was founded in 1972. The event did lose its Rolex Series status this year due to COVID-19 rescheduling, so the field quality and prize money have declined. The Italian Open moves to different venues across the country and makes its debut at the Chervo Golf Club in Brescia. 

 

The Course

Chervo Golf Club was designed by Kurt Rossknecht and caters primarily to Italian tourists. This week’s layout is listed as a 7,434-yard par-72. Nevertheless, Chervo is a resort course first and foremost, with wide, forgiving fairways leading to fairly straightforward greens. This event is usually a low-scoring affair in which birdies are plentiful, and Chervo should be no different. As a first-time track in the Italian Open rotation, Chervo really has no course history to examine. But other Rossknecht designs have featured recently on the European Tour with events held in Germany, including Bad Griesbach for the 2015 and ’16 Porsche European Opens and the 2017 Paul Lawrie Match Play plus Munchen Eichenried, which is part of the BMW International Open rotation.

 

Recent History

2019: Bernd Wiesberger (-16/268), Olgiata, Rome; 35-1

2018: Thorbjorn Olesen (-22/262), Gardagolf, Brescia; 80-1

2017: Tyrrell Hatton (-21/263), Milano, Monza; 18-1

2016: Francesco Molinari (-22/262), Milano, Monza; 25-1

2015: Rikard Karlberg (-19/269), Milano, Monza; 70-1*

2014: Hennie Otto (-20/268), Torino, Turin; 80-1

2013: Julien Quesne (-12/276), Torino, Turin; 80-1

2012: Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (-24/264), Royal Park I Roveri, Turin; 40-1

2011: Robert Rock (-21/267), Royal Park I Roveri, Turin; 66-1

2010: Fredrik Andersson Hed (-16/268), Royal Park I Roveri, Turin; 66-1

 

 

* — playoff win over Martin Kaymer

 

Selections

 

Jordan Smith 25-1

Smith’s best finish in the last year or so was a T3 at the BMW International Open on another Kurt Rossknecht design. 

The Englishman rates 12th for strokes gained off the tee (+ 0.59), seventh for strokes gained tee to green (+ 1.20) and second for greens in regulation (72.82%). 

 

Matthias Schwab 25-1

Another player who finished T3 last year on the Rossknecht design at the BMW International Open. 

The Austrian comes from a week off after playing four events in a row. He is getting reacquainted with European Tour play after spending a good part of the summer attempting to earn temporary membership on the PGA Tour. 

 

Adri Arnaus 34-1

While still seeking his first win on the European Tour, the Spaniard has three professional wins, and two have come in Italy. 

 

David Horsey 44-1

Horsey has two top-10s and four top-15s over his last six starts. His first European Tour win was at the BMW International Open on the Rossknecht design, where he has played six times and never missed the cut. 

 

Chris Paisley 50-1

Paisley finished fourth at the Scottish Championship. The Englishman was also third in the 2015 BMW International Open on the Rossknecht design and has a third here in Italy. He's arguably the best putter in the field this week. 

 

Rikard Karlberg 80-1

Karlberg is a former event champion and won the Italian title at Milan in 2015. He also finished T5 in 2017 at the BMW International Open on the Rossknecht layout.

 

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