Like THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT, THE ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP has the caps lock on. Unlike last week’s event, however, the ZOZO is permitted a return to Asia. So, while the former event remained in Nevada for a second year in a row (and witnessed a fine victory for Rory McIlroy), the latter returns to Japan. As such, of course, it represents a second PGA TOUR visit to that country in 2021 (after the Olympics). It’s both unprecedented and also utterly fitting, if coincidental, in the year that Hideki Matsuyama claimed the nation’s first major championship title at the Masters. The week is bound to be a celebration.
Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club
It’s not only a return to Japan, because the tournament also revisits the scene of the inaugural edition and the par-70 7,041 yard course that we will refer to hereafter as Narashino CC.
It’s a track that is very typical of its homeland. The fairways are tightly tree-lined and it has a unique feature that is, for the most part, entirely Japanese. What’s that? Well, every hole has two greens and for a rather straightforward and brilliant reason. The seasons in the country can be very tough on grass so two putting surfaces are created, to be used when the greens are in best shape. A typically off-beat and yet also sensible solution to a puzzle that would render other nationalities rather more clueless. At certain times of the year – and this is one of them – both greens can be used. Two years ago there was a little by-play in this regard, adding a novel element to the test.
It might be worth noting that the tightness of the fairways is not always a hindrance from the tee, but it is possible to find the fairway and have an over-hanging branch interfering with the approach shot. That’s a feature which also comes into play at Harbour Town at The Heritage and also at Valderrama on the European Tour.
The putting surfaces are bent grass with Zoysia in the fairways and on the rough. It’s a grass that prompts many to argue that brushers of approach shots are favored. Justin Leonard was especially strong from it and memories of his flat swing may explain why. That said, Dustin Johnson has excelled at TPC Southwind and he hits down on his iron shots.
The weather for Chiba, Japan is forecast to be a little on the chilly side. There appears to be little chance of rain, but it will be slightly or mainly cloudy every day of the event, with a breeze of about 10 mph and temperatures that are unlikely to get above 60 degrees.
Past Champions of the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
The first edition of this tournament witnessed a dominant performance from Tiger Woods who carded a 64 in round one to tie the early lead, added a second 64 to pull two shots clear, a third round 66 opened the gap up to three, and a final round 67 maintained that lead.
He was a popular winner with the galleries, albeit they didn’t see the third round of the event, forced to watch from home after a storm made the location unsafe for visitors. Equally, Hideki Matsuyama was cheered on his way to solo second and he can expect more of that this week following his Green Jacket glory.
We don’t have any Strokes Gained data from the 2019 event, but conventional stats drop a few hints. Matsuyama led the Putting Averages that week and Woods was second. Meanwhile, Woods was third for hitting the Greens in Regulation and Matsuyama seventh. Hit a lot of greens and hole a lot of putts is never going to be a bad recipe for success, and it was exactly so in 2019.
When re-located to Sherwood Country Club in California last year Patrick Cantlay prevailed, but he does not travel to Japan to defend his trophy. Nor do Jon Rahm or Justin Thomas who shared second.
Here’s are some entirely FREE suggestions for you this week with MORE for subscribers (DraftKings Prices)
|B list||E. Van Rooyen||$9,500|
|B list||C.T. Pan||$8,800|
|C list||M. Wallace||$8,000|
|C list||T. Kanaya||$7,200|
Hideki Matsuyama ($10,300) The nation’s golfing hero and he lived up to the billing both here in 2019 (when he was second only to Woods) and at the Olympics (when he finished in a share for third and agonizingly was unable to win a medal in his home Games). Got off to good starts in both the Vegas events before slipping backwards, but I like that he can move it up a few gears on home soil. Also notable that he was second this summer on the Zoysia fairways at TPC Southwind.
Erik Van Rooyen ($9,500) Missed the cut two weeks ago, but otherwise the South African has five top 25 finishes in his last seven starts including a victory. He won’t be afraid of traditionally-designed courses (his homeland has plenty) or Zoysia fairways and rough (ditto). Finished third at Chapultepec in Mexico which McIlroy has likened to this week’s test (tight fairways with dog legs).
C.T. Pan ($8,800) The Taiwanese player should be looking forward to his return to Japan, scene of his dramatic capture of a bronze medal in a play-off during the summer. He’s also kept the foot to the metal since then, landing a top 30 at Sedgefield, missing one cut and then opening the new season with T–6 and T–11. A tight course is unlikely to faze this winner at Harbour Town.
Matt Wallace ($8,000) A solid T–14 at the Shriners Children’s Open arrested something of a loss of form and this looks an ideal spot for him to kick on. Back in 2018, his third win of the year on the European Tour came in the Made in Himmerland at Silkebord Ry, a tight track that is somewhat similar to this week. .
Takumi Kanaya ($7,200) This 23-year-old was the World No. 1 in the amateur ranks for 55 weeks ahead of turning professional a year ago and he took little time winning the famous Dunlop Phoenix Tournament (his second victory in the pro ranks, but first when he cashed the check). He added another win earlier this year and arrives at this week’s event off a run of seven straight top 20s. He looks ripe for impressing at the higher level.
Harry Higgs ($7,500) A fine top 10 last week in THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT for the popular Higgs, but this is a simple play on his career record post-top 10s. Since he graduated to the second tier from the Latino America Tour he has landed nine top 10s and never finished top 20 in the next start, with six of those finishes outside the top 50. The lack of a cut mitigates against this somewhat, but the buzz of last week added to the travel and minimum preparation puts me off a play.
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Here’s Another Alternate of Core Picks For The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
|B list||K. Bradley||$9,400|
|B list||R. Palmer||$8,300|
|C list||S. Vincent||$6,400|
|C list||K. Stanley||$6,200|
Xander Schauffele ($11,000) Schauffele had a wonderful time in Japan in the summer and were these normal times I would wonder that he may be overwhelmed with media and family duties this week. But they are not normal and I believe he can spin off those good vibes. Since becoming a top level golfer he has three starts in Japan, all of them top 10s (including on this course). He also closed last week’s T–18 at The Summit with a strong 63.
Keegan Bradley ($9,400) It’s been a consistent year for the one-time major winner with 13 of his 19 starts earning top 40 finishes. Can this be one of highlight week? I think it can be because he’s a repeater – he plays good golf on courses he likes, a trend he backed up with a top 20 at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island this year. Back in 2013 he was T–13 here and he’s a past winner at Firestone, a good course pointer for this week.
Ryan Palmer ($8,300) The Texan finished T–10 at the course two years ago and like Bradley I like his chances of repeating and for much the same reason: he was very good at Firestone. In fact, Palmer finish both second and third in just three visits to the old host of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
Scott Vincent ($6,400) Another venture on to the home tour for a bargain and not this time a local, but a rare beast – a foreigner who has earned his pro golf crust the hard way. The Japanese circuit is a hard one to crack, but has been rewarding to many who have persevered and Vincent is the latest. He’s a two-time winner this season, both in his last seven starts (in which he’s never been outside the top 15). He’s also gone 12 starts since he was last outside the top 30, including a top 20 at the Olympics when he was a pick for this column.
Kyle Stanley ($6,200) A final play for the Firestone connection. Stanley played there three times, finishing T–16, T–41 and T–2, in the latter narrowly missing out on a career and life-changing result in 2018. That’s the good news. The bad explains his salary: He hasn’t made a cut in six starts. But he can’t miss it this week so the upside is high and he’s good at hitting greens.
Garrick Higgo ($7,800) Since landing three wins in five starts on the European and PGA Tours in early summer it has all gone wrong for the South African. He’s made 11 starts, only three times made the weekend and not recorded a top 40. His success so far has come on wide courses so we’ll steer clear this week. Unlike Stanley his ‘salary vs. potential’ ratio is not great.
As last week, there is no cut which gives us a slightly different vibe with which to juggle the field. Xander Schauffele recently discussed his excellent record in no-cut events and speculated that he feels he can spin a little more lavishly knowing there is no halfway monitor in place. Discuss among yourselves! Japanese form will, by necessity, be thin on the ground, but I’m figuring it in. Form at this time of year, too: some players turn off consciously, subconsciously or both. Others find it suits them. Finally the bent grass and Zoysia approaches need to be factored in somewhat. Final thought? Three of the top four in 2019 were winners at Firestone and the odd one out never played there.
Other Player Options For The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
• Paul Casey is a four-time visitor to Japan and three of those trips have reaped top 20s, including his visit to this course two years ago. He’s gone four starts without a top 20 however.
• Another Japanese option might be Ryosuke Kinoshita. He made the cut at the Open in July and had five top 10s in his last six starts.
• Joaquin Niemann hasn’t featured on a leaderboard recently, but he continues to play a lot of golf. He’s played four rounds in 30 of his last 31 starts (eight of those starts had no cut).
COVID-19 and Injury Warning:
Pro DFS players know it makes sense to stay up-to-date on Twitter, DraftKings, FanDuel and-or subscribe to any number of email feeds and whatever to remain up to speed with injuries or COVID-19 withdraws. Players that don’t make the cut are tough enough. Players that don’t play all four rounds (even when pulling out at the last minute) make for a pretty weak lineup.
Go win your lineups and then tell us how you did. Twitter (@FantasyDFSX) is a good place for that.
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