The Zozo Championship
It was a profitable week for us in the end at the CJ Cup courtesy of Joaquin Niemann’s fine Sunday round of 66, which saw him creep in to sixth place.
The Chilean’s fast finish made the withdrawal of Jason Day with a neck problem after one hole of Sunday’s final round a bit more palatable as the Aussie had been right in the hunt for us in sixth place overnight going in to the final day. Still, as they say in Vegas that’s the way the chips fall sometimes and in the end I was just delighted to follow up last week’s heroics with a solid week.
The tournament itself was won by Jason Kokrak who after 230 starts on the PGA Tour finally got his first win with a tremendous performance, which rightfully earned all the plaudits.
The big man had been playing some great stuff of late and had done us a nice favour when bagging a full each way payout at the BMW Championship recently and from that point of view his win certainly didn’t come out of the blue.
The reason however I hadn’t considered him strongly for this event though was I felt his main historical weakness, his short game, would make him a bad fit for the track…little did I know though that Jason is an ambassador for MGM and had therefore played the course more than twenty times giving him a good advantage and this helped him to putt the lights out…It goes to show you can never have too much information!
So, we move on to the second week of what is usually the Asian swing to an event, which like last weeks CJ Cup has been relocated to the USA for this year only.
The event in question, The Zozo Championship, debuted last year on the tour in Japan, its long term home, and was won as most will remember by Tiger Woods.
The tournament is certainly here to stay for the near future as a deal has been signed, which will see it take its place on the schedule until at least 2025, however this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic the event will be held at Sherwood CC set at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains just south of the city Thousand Oaks in California.
The course, which has not been seen on tour for many years is best known as the venue, which hosted Tiger Woods’ end of year romp, the World Golf Challenge from its inception in 2000 through to the end of 2013.
Like last week the event is a limited field event of 78 players with no cut. The field in principle is made up of the top 60 available players from the previous seasons Fedex Cup and is then complimented by a strong contingency from the Japanese tour and sponsors exemptions, which this year include Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose & Tommy Fleetwood.
The field on display this week is a very strong one with Jon Rahm marginally heading up the market from Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy. Defending champion Tiger Woods who has plenty of positive history here from the days of the World Challenge also tee’s it up for the first time since the US Open.
Dustin Johnson remains absent following his positive Covid-19 test, which lead to his withdrawal from last weeks CJ Cup.
Sherwood CC is a par 72 measuring just over 7000 yards.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course is a Jack Nicklaus design.
Other Nicklaus designs used on tour are Muirfield Village home of the Memorial, PGA National, home of the Honda, Glen Abbey home of the RBC Canadian Open in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2015 & 2016 and The PGA West Tournament Course used in the rota in American Express.
Notably the course contains five par fives and five par three’s.
While you would think that a par 72 of this length in todays game would be there for the taking for the players the tree lined fairways will potentially make accuracy key this week and as you regularly find with Jack Nicklaus courses the challenge will be to find accurate approach play in order to find the right portion of the tiered greens. In that sense it may well be that the skill sets required are not too dissimilar to last week.
With the event only having been on the calendar for one year [won as noted earlier by Tiger Woods] and having been played at it’s long term home in Japan, there is little to no value in assessing last years tournament. Of more interest however you would think would be historical course form at Sherwood CC from when it held the World Golf Challenge to see if we can identify the type of player who performs well here and from that point of view I have listed below the top five finishers in the events played between 2010-2013 inclusive.
2010 – 1st G McDowell, 2nd T Woods, 3rd P Casey, 4th R McIlroy, 5th H Mahan
2011 – 1st T Woods, Z Johnson, 3rd P Casey, T4th H Mahan & M Kuchar
2012 – 1st G McDowell, 2nd K Bradley, 3rd BV Pelt, T4th T Woods, R Fowler, J Furyk
2013 – 1st Z Johnson, 2nd T Woods, T3rd M Kuchar & B Watson, 5th W Simpson
Conditions look set to stay dry throughout the week with temperatures sitting in a pleasant low to mid 70s.
Wind does not look to be an issue for the first three days with nothing above 10mph in the forecast. It could become a factor on Sunday however with the possibility of 20mph gusts showing at the time of writing.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
BUBBA WATSON –33-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED T4th
With his eye catching performance at Shadow Creek last week combined with some solid historical play here Bubba Watson is a fairly obvious play this week, however sometimes it pays to stick to the obvious and I have found it impossible to leave him out.
The 2019/20 season was a bit of a mixed bag for Bubba as he followed some customary strong West Coast play in the early part of the year, with some scratchy performances post lockdown, which saw him miss four cuts in five starts through June and July.
Come the play off’s however Watson regained some momentum finishing 18th and 16th at the Northern Trust and BMW Championships respectively and he appears to have carried this across in to the new campaign following up a solid 31st at Winged Foot with his seventh place showing at the weekend.
What made Bubba’s efforts at Shadow Creek all the more impressive is that he opened up on Thursday with a disappointing 74 before his long game caught fire the rest of the way with rounds of 69 65 and a closing 68.
Fifty first in putting for the week Watson clearly struggled on the greens however by the end of the week he lead the field in Strokes-Gained-Tee-To-Green gaining just under 11 strokes. In addition he finished the week second in approach play.
If we then look back at Bubba’s historical play here we see that he tee’d it up on four occasions in the World Golf Challenge posting a best of third place so he should be comfortable returning here.
Dig further in to Bubba’s history and there is plenty more encouragement to be found. Firstly Bubba has posted four of his twelve wins on tour in the state of California, three coming less than an hour away at Riviera. In addition he is a four time winner on bentgrass greens, which he faces this week, [as he did last week], so he can hopefully improve on last weeks poor effort with the flaststick.
Finally I like the fact that he has produced solid form at the Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village, home of the Memorial, over the years.
All in all there is a lot to like about Bubba this week and I am keen to have him onside.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 35-1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 17th
Having sided with Joaquin Niemann last week and been duly rewarded I have no intention in jumping off the young Chilean’s ship this week as he continues to trend clearly in the right direction.
I commented this time last week on how strong Niemann is from tee to green and he duly finished sixth in this category at Shadow Creek on his way to his sixth place finish, something, which is made even more impressive by the fact that he was strokes gained negative in this department on day one.
A great shot maker my hunch is that Joaquin will take to the test required to conquer Sherwood CC and if the wind does blow on Sunday his low ball flight will also be an added bonus.
Niemann finished his 19/20 campaign with a third place in his penultimate start at the BMW Championship and he has started his 20/21 campaign like he means business, opening up with a 23rd at the US Open before going 13th and sixth over the past fortnight in Vegas.
Clearly at his best on Bentgrass putting surfaces Joaquin is undoubtedly the ‘real deal’ and with him looking primed to win again soon he is a must for me this week.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD – 40-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 57th
When I put my team together last week for the CJ Cup there was one player, Jason Day, who I could not get away from including based on what I saw as course suitability. Now of course we all know how that ended up however prior to Sunday’s unfortunate WD I was feeling very pleased with my train of logic and as such having the same gut instinct on this week’s course for another player I am going to jump straight on board and include him.
The man in question is Tommy Fleetwood and my simple train of thought is how strong past form here in the World Challenge from European players has linked really well to one of Nicklaus’ other flagship designs PGA National.
To expand further Padraig Harrington who had great success here is a former Honda Champion, Graeme McDowell a two time champion here has played really well over the years at the Honda and the same can be said for another former champion here Luke Donald.
Reading comments that Sherwood CC rewards patience, strong iron players and shot makers it is not hard to see why the likes of Harrington and McDowell historically played well here and on that basis Fleetwood who has finished fourth on both of his visits to PGA National, and of course really should have won this year, fits the bill perfectly.
Prior to a somewhat lack lustre effort last week, which can surely be excused after the travelling and time zone change Tommy had been in strong form in Europe and after a week to re acclimatize to the US I can see him going really well again this week.
Fleetwood of course has struggled to get over the line in the US however the fact remains that he is a world class performer who’s time will come and with his odds drifting out this week on the back of his poor showing in Vegas there is plenty of e/w juice in the price.
On that basis on I course I just have hunch he’ll take to I am happy to chance Tommy this time out.
RUSSELL HENLEY – 50-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED T4th
One player who’s ship I did jump off last week was Russell Henley’s and having been on him in his previous three starts I will confess there would have been more than a tinge of regret had he bagged the trophy at Shadow Creek.
While therefore I would have been delighted for Henley had he got the rewards his recent strong play maybe deserved the fact that he didn’t post the win gives us the chance to jump back on board for several reasons.
Firstly of course and most obviously Henley’s strong play going back to pre- lockdown, which has seen him post five top tens in eleven starts is enough to bring him in to consideration, and the fact that he stalled on Sunday at Shadow Creek should not take away from his superb play over the majority of the 72 holes.
For some time now Henley has been one of the best tee to green players on tour ranking third in approach play last season and fifth in good old fashioned GIR.
Significantly however his once strong putter, which had dramatically deserted him over the past couple of years, had showed signs of warming up in recent weeks before fully delivering the goods last week and it should be noted it did not desert him on Sunday.
In fact while the chance slipped by on Sunday it should be said that Henley did not do too much wrong and on another day a round of 70 on this course going in with a three shot lead may well have been good enough to at least make a play off. Yes he made a mess of the par five seventh before coming unstuck on eleven after driving through the green, however he also hit a lot of good shots down the stretch and in my eyes once he gets over the initial disappointment he will take a lot of positives away.
Moving on to this week then and if we assume Henley arrives in good heart I have strong hopes that this is a course that should suit him.
My main reason for thinking this is Henley’s strong history at PGA National, which I think links really well here for the reasons noted earlier. A former champion there Henley finished eighth there again this year. In addition he also posted a top ten on the Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village this summer.
Like Niemann Henley, to state the obvious looks a player on the verge of another win and I am keen to have him onside again this week.
RYAN PALMER – 90-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED T4th
Finally continuing the Nicklaus course link theme I am going to roll the dice [even though we have left Vegas!] on Ryan Palmer.
Taking Palmer who is winless in a solo capacity since 2010 to triumph in this company is of course a risky business, however in a stretch that his seen Stewart Cink win for the first time since his Open victory, Kokrak bag his first win in his 230th start and Laird of course victorious for the first time since 2013 anything is possible and on that basis I am happy to take my chances.
Since a second place finish at the Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village in the summer Ryan has played some really solid stuff and it was more of the same at Shadow Creek at the weekend where he finished 17th and, significantly to me for this week, finished first for the week in good old fashioned GIR.
Fourth and second over the years at the Honda to give us the PGA National link alongside his second place at the Memorial Palmer clearly is comfortable on a Nicklaus design. In addition in a week, which sees five par fives in play I do like the fact that he was tenth on tour in the par five scoring averages last season.
While as noted it has been a long time since Palmer’s last win he made the frame four times last season and is not afraid to pop up in a bigger event. On that basis, and hopefully with him taking some positives from the recent winners on tour, I am happy to side with Ryan this week at juicy each way odds.
UPDATED 20th OCTOBER
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - JORDAN SPIETH - DK VALUE - $6900 - FINISHED 41st - DK POINTS TOTAL 97
For my first pick this week I can't resist chancing Jordan Spieth at a tempting $6900.
Spieth as we know has been in a long time slump now for quite some while, however it is worth noting that his recent missed cuts at the Safeway and US Open were only his third & fourth MC in his last 15 starts so there has still been some decent stuff in amongst the bad.
This week Spieth arrives at Sherwood on the back of a positive weekend at Shadow Creek shooting 69 and 67.
One other change this week is that his long time caddie Michael Greller who had to leave Shadow Creek after Friday's round due to the sad sudden passing of his Mother will continue to be absent and it appears Jordan's father will be on the bag and it may just be Spieth is inspired to put in a good performance for Greller.
All through this tough stretch Spieth has continued to make plenty of birdies, which off course makes him attractive in this no cut format and on a shorter course, which is often the type on which he thrives I am happy to chance him.
PICk 2 - KEVIN STREELMAN - DK VALUE - $6600 - FINISHED 28th - DK POINTS TOTAL - 92.5
For my second selection I will side with Kevin Streelman.
Streelman is an incredibly tough man to predict however he is often at his best on shorter layouts where accuracy is at a premium like Hilton Head and that certainly links well to this week. In addition he has some strong form at the Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village over the past couple of seasons.
Third as recently as the Safeway Streelman played nicely at Shadow Creek to finish 21st and he is fancied to go well again this week on a course, which should be to his liking.