ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP Preview

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Next up for the PGA TOUR is a trip to Japan for the third playing of the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP.

The inaugural edition was played in 2019 at Narashino Country Club, and it was won by Tiger Woods.

Last year, they moved it to Sherwood Country Club in California and Patrick Cantlay hoisted the hardware.

Some softening of travel restrictions has allowed them to return to Narashino Country Club again this year.

Similar to last week, this is another no-cut event with just 78 golfers lined up to start the week. While the travel restriction may have allowed them to return to Japan, many of the superstars have elected to skip the event, sadly. It may be harder for many of them to justify the one-week trip to Japan where in previous years there was an Asian Swing of sorts to entice golfers to travel.

Let's hop right in and discuss this week's venue.

The Course

This week's host venue is Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan.

Last week we were working on no data from The Summit Club but this week we have one year to work with (2019-20 edition).

We saw Tiger Woods win that edition, reaching 19-under by weeks.

That would suggest a relatively easy test but when you look at the conditions throughout the week, weather played a big part in that scoring. This is a par-70 layout that stretches out to just 7,041 yards. The field averaged just 71.15 during round one but the area was hit by a typhoon before round two that pushed the whole tournament back a day, forcing a Monday finish.

After they returned from the typhoon break, the field average 68.96 over the final three rounds. It's remarkable they were even able to play after all that rain but the result was seeing an easier test that was more than two shots easier per round when playing with very soft conditions.

So, this year I would expect the field scoring to likely fall somewhere in between in 69.75 to 70.25 range if I had to guess.

Off the tee, golfers will see tight and tree-lined fairways with plenty of doglegs to work around. Without any precipitation in the forecast this week, I would expect precision to have a bit more value compared to the last time they played here.

On approach, golfers will see two sets of greens per hole, but only the bentgrass version will be utilized for tournament play. The field averaged 76% GIR from the fairway the last time they played here which is slightly below TOUR average but that was with the softest conditions possible. I would expect them to be much tougher to land this week which should put a little more value on short-game skills.

Once they reach the greens, they will see bentgrass surfaces that are manicured to perfection and quite slopey, like most classical designs in the States. Xander Schauffele admitted to putting three of four balls of the greens in a practice round back in 2019. The greens aren't abnormally fast overall but you have to really respect the downhillers.

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Quotes on the Course

Rory McIlroy: "It’s in great condition, the greens are so pure, and it sort of reminds me a little bit of the course replay in Mexico, Chapultepec. Reminds me a little bit of that, just sort of the tree lined and sort of the doglegs and having to sort of cut off corners and stuff, but I like it." -2019

Hideki Matsuyama: "The grass here differs from that in U.S., but as I grew up in Japan, it was comfortable for me to play with that." -2019

Tiger Woods: "This grass, Zoysia, man, you can get some serious flyers out here, monster flyers. The one I hit on the last hole, we were trying to hit an 8-iron 200 yards and hit it 200. That’s not something I normally do." -2019

Rory McIlroy: "This is the complete opposite of last week (Nine Bridges). Tight and Tree-Lined." -2019

Jason Day: "I’ve never played rough like this. The blade of grass is so huge." -2019

Correlated Courses

It's more guesswork than usual this week since we have just one year of data.

Torrey Pines
TPC Scottsdale
TPC Sawgrass
Chapultepec
Waialae CC

These are what courses popped up with I plugged in the leaderboard from the 2020 edition of the ZOZO but like I said above, the course was playing extremely soft for three of the four rounds. I would tread lightly with course comps this week. From the eye test, some courses like Harbour Town, East Lake, Valderrama, or Hong Kong GC might be decent comps, if the course is playing firmer and tougher this week.

The Weather

Thursday: Cloudy with a high of 63 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.

Friday: Cloudy with a high of 63 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH.

There is a slight chance of rain most days this week but nothing major, unlike 2019's typhoon that rolled through ahead of round two.

Golfers to Watch

Xander Schauffele
Schauffele starts the week right alongside Morikawa as the early favorites on the betting board. Schauffle started slow last week but rallied with a Sunday 63 to backdoor a top 20 and fill up his confidence tank ahead of this week's event. He won the Olympic Competition this summer in Japan, so he also has that in his back pocket as a confidence booster.

Collin Morikawa
Speaking of momentum, Morikawa stormed his home course with a closing 62 to give Rory McIlroy a scare. The CJ CUP was his first event played of the new season and first time playing competitively since the Ryder Cup. It's safe to say his back injury is a thing of the past after seeing him perform so well at the Ryder Cup as well as last week's tournament.

Hideki Matsuyama
While many of the superstars are missing in action this week, this is like a fifth major for Matsuyama, playing in his home country. He finished runner-up to Tiger Woods the last time they played here and I would expect him to once again have a little pep in his step as he tries to contend this week at Narashino Country Club.

Scott Vincent
The Zimbabwean has played his last 17 events in Japan, securing nine straight top 20s. If there is any comfort to knowing the local grasses, weather, etc. then Vincent is certainly an interesting name for DFS gamers or first-round leader consideration.

Will Zalatoris
The 2021 Rookie of the Year has gotten used to contending while being at a disadvantage in terms of course knowledge. He won't have that same disadvantage this week as just 24 golfers in the field played in the 2019-20 ZOZO and even they have just four competitive rounds in their memory banks. This would be as good of week as any to finally pick up that first PGA TOUR title.

Ranking the Field

1. Xander Schauffele
2. Collin Morikawa
3. Hideki Matsuyama
4. Will Zalatoris
5. Tommy Fleetwood
6. Joaquin Niemann
7. Alex Noren
8. Cameron Tringale
9. Jhonattan Vegas
10. Keegan Bradley
11. Maverick McNealy
12. Rickie Fowler
13. Charley Hoffman
14. Emiliano Grillo
15. Si Woo Kim
16. Branden Grace
17. Garrick Higgo
18. Erik van Rooyen
19. Chris Kirk
20. C.T. Pan