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 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.
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.
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