The Zozo Championship
Sadly our 2022/23 PGA season seems to have begun in a very similar vein to much of our 21/22 campaign. In simple terms we are regularly getting players in the mix heading in to Sunday who are then stalling time and again on ‘pay day’ and failing to make the frame.
Last week in Vegas it was the turn of two of our picks Hadwin and Putnam to come up one and two shots shy respectively from the pay out places, with Hadwin’s round four, which saw him initially +3 for the day early on particularly galling. To rub salt in to the would last weeks three fig odds punt S.H Kim who had headed in to Sunday at the Sandersons in the frame only to stumble showed he certainly has what it takes in Vegas to produce a strong final day, which began with hole out eagle, to make the places!
We have to take the positives though in that if we keep putting ourselves in contention as we are our turn on Sunday is sure to come again soon.
As for the event itself it was another spectacular performance from the young Korean superstar Tom Kim who built on his great week at the Presidents Cup to see off Patrick Cantlay in a great Sunday dual. To add to the feel good factor of South Korean men’s golf three of Tom’s countrymen, the aforementioned SH Kim, Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim all made the frame.
So, we move on and it’s time for a trip to Japan for The Zozo Championship. The event is held at Accordia Golf Narashino CC in Chiba, which is about 25 miles from Tokyo.
The tournament, which was introduced to the calendar in 2019 is now a regular fixture on the schedule with a deal in place for it to take place until at least 2025.
In 2020 due to the covid 19 pandemic the event was moved for one year only to the US, more specifically Sherwood CC in California, however last year we returned to Japan for the second playing at the home venue.
The event is a limited field event with no cut. The field in principle is made up of the top 60 available players from the previous seasons Fedex Cup along with qualifiers from the Japanese Tour and sponsors exemptions.
The field on display this week is a reasonably strong one with home favourite Hideki Matsuyama the star draw. Hideki is not the favourite in the betting though, this honour goes to Xander Schauffele who is at single figure odds, with Sungjae In, Collin Morikawa, Tom Kim and Matsuyama all then available around the 14/1 mark.
The host course Accordia Golf Narashino CC a par 70 measuring just under 7041yds.
Importantly though unlike most par 70 courses the course includes five par 3’s and three par 5s in its setup instead of the customary two par 5s and four par 3s.
The course sits 26 miles east of Tokyo’s glistening downtown Ginza district, just over halfway to Narita International Airport.
There are two courses at Narashino CC, the King and the Queen course, and this weeks 18 holes will be made up of a composite of the two.
The course opened in 1965.
The greens are Bentgrass while the fairways feature Zoyzia grass, comparable to that seen at TPC Southwind and East Lake.
The most unique feature of the course is that as is the custom with many Japanese golf courses each hole has two greens. If a player finds the wrong green during tournament week, which isn’t in play on the hole, they will get a free drop under a ‘wrong green’ ruling to the nearest point of relief.
The track features narrowish, treelined fairways and smallish greens not too dissimilar visually to the sort of course you find in the Carolina’s, perhaps like Sedgefield or Quail Hollow [although not comparable in length to the latter], or even more so to Copperhead, home of the Valspar Championship over on the Tampa coast, which is often seen as more as a Carolina’s type course rather than a Florida one.
With the event having been played on US soil in 2020 we can dismiss that edition from our thinking meaning we have two outings in 2019 and 2021 at Narashino CC to focus on.
So then let’s have a look at the top ten finishers from those two years.
1, H Matsuyama. T2 B Steele, C Tringale, T4, M Hughes, M Wallace, S Munoz, T7, K Bradley, L Griffin, T Kanaya, L List, T Fleetwood, B Grace, C Morikawa, S Ryder.
1 T Woods, 2 H Matsuyama, T3 S Im, R McIlroy, 5 G Woodland, T6 C Conners, B Horschel
T8 B An, C Howell III, T10, D Lee, R Palmer, X Schauffele
So, what can we glean from these leaderboards? Well with only two year’s worth of data not too much in all honesty, particularly as we don’t have any strokes gained data to go on. [Not that I can find anyway!]. What we can see though from the stats available is that in 2019 the key to Tiger’s win was a hot putter, he ranked first in old fashioned ‘putts per GIR’ and coupled this with a strong approach game, he was third in GIR. Basically he did everything great, something reflected in the fact that he was six shots clear of the third place finishers.
The second player home, that year, Matsuyama, ranked second for the week in putting, rubber stamping the hot putter angle, while he was sixth in GIR and Sungjae Im who tied for third with McIlroy was fourth in putting.
Moving on to 2021 and unfortunately there is no stats data available from that edition so we have little more to go on than we did after year one.
One angle that does interest me though is something that I initially speculated on in my preview in 2019 prior to the courses first outing and that is that the flyovers I had seen reminded me in some ways of a Copperhead type course in it being tree lined and quite tight in places. In addition of course we have the similarity between the two events of the five par three’s.
The reason this angle still interests me is if we look at the final top ten from 2019 noted above we had one former Copperhead Champion, Woodland, a player in Im who finished top five that year in the Valspar and a player in Conners who first hit our consciousness when he lead at the Copperhead through three rounds and had Tiger for company on Sunday.
Meanwhile if we look at last years top ten here we’ll see that two players who featured prominently at the Copperhead course in 2021, Bradley and Tringale, finished high up the board here.
We look set this week for four days of pleasant conditions with temperatures hovering around the mid to high 60s.
Thursday looks set to be the toughest day weatherwise with rain showers expected and the wind getting up to 20mph+.
Friday and Saturday look set to be dry while Sunday shows the chance of showers. The wind looks set to drop after Thursday but 10-15mph is still possible across the remainder of the week. .
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
TYRRELL HATTON –25/1 – 2pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 45th
I’m going to start this week by chancing that what has been a fairly sluggish 2022 for Tyrrell Hatton can be turned around by an end of year flourish.
Tyrrell’s 2022 on the PGA Tour started reasonably strongly as he posted three top 15 finishes in his first four starts of the year Stateside including a runner up spot at Bay Hill. This came on the back of two top tens to start the year in the Middle East on the DP World Tour.
After his customary poor showing at Augusta though Hatton struggled through the spring and early summer in the US failing to post another top ten until he finally got back on track at the Par 70 Sedgefield CC in the Wyndham. A couple of solid efforts in the play offs then followed before Hatton produced back to back top tens in Italy and ant the Dunhill Links.
Looking at Tyrrell’s stats last season on the PGA Tour and the club that worked best for him was undoubtedly the putter for, which he ranked fourth on tour all season and as noted earlier the flat stick has certainly been key here to date.
From a correlating course point of view a look at the Englishman’s CV on the PGA Tour over recent years shows us that aside from Bay Hill a lot of his best stuff has come on shorter and/or classical tree lined tests. This is backed up by a third place at Hilton Head in 2020, a strong 17th on the Zoyzia at Southwind in 2021, a result, which would have been much better but for a poor final day, an eighth at Colonial in 2019, a top ten again on the Zoyzia at East Lake and the recent top ten at Sedgefield.
At this time of year motivation is undoubtedly a big factor and with plenty to play for on the DP World Tour still this year I am expecting Hatton to build on his two recent top tens and make a bold push for his first win of 2022.
SEBASTIAN MUNOZ – 45/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 36th
We have seen over the past couple of weeks on the PGA Tour that on one way or another the recent Presidents Cup has been key in shaping players attitudes and the outcome of the Sanderson Farms and the Shriners.
Firstly at the Sanderson Farms we saw a player on Mackenzie Hughes who had felt slightly aggrieved not to get a wild card pick for Quail Hollow post a victory and indeed it was a pretty similar story with Ryan Fox on the DP World Tour the same week. Last week meanwhile we the South Korean contingent who had all performed so strongly in Charlotte take that momentum to Vegas and in the shape of Tom Kim land the trophy.
Continuing the theme then and I am happy to make my next selection another player who must have taken a tonne of confidence from Presidents Cip week, Sebastian Munoz.
The Colombian who went unbeaten in Charlotte really came to the fore on Sunday in his singles match when he took down world number one Scottie Scheffler in hugely impressive style.
Looking at Munoz form on the PGA Tour over the past couple of years and there is no doubt that ‘consistency’ is not a word you would as a rule associate with him, however, on his day and on a course that suits him he is more than capable of mixing it with the big guns. Interestingly then a look at the 29yr old’s tour results tell us that this type of test really does suit him.
Firstly of course we are not needing to speculate too much as he was fourth here last year when arriving in no great form at all. Furthermore we can Sebastian has been third at Colonial and third twice at the short Sea Island track in the RSM. Meanwhile his best effort of his debut season on tour by far was at the par 70 Greenbrier where he opened with a 61. Finally the icing on the cake is that as well as finishing fourth here last year he also finished fourth at the Olympics last year so he really does seem to enjoy his golf in Japan.
Buoyed then by his big week at Quail Hollow and returning to a course we know suits him I am keen to be on board with Sebastian this week.
SAHITH THEEGALA – 50/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED T5th
For my final two selections this week I am going to side with two players who are making their debut on the track but who I both think will take to it.
First of those two is Sahith Theegala. I selected Theegala as one of my ‘six to follow’ players for 2022 back it the beginning of the year and in what has no doubt as a whole been an underwhelming performance from those picked Sahith has been the one bright light.
Yet to post his first win on Tour Theegala has come close on a couple of occasions most agonisingly at TPC River Highlands when, with us onboard at 150/1, he contrived to make a double bogey six on the 72 hole to surrender a one shot lead and gift the tournament to Xander Schauffele.
What that effort at the Travelers showed us though is that Sahith is very much at home on classical tree lined tests. Seventh place at the correlating Valspar earlier in the year is hugely encouraging for this week as was 13th at TPC Southwind where he opened up with a 63. If we then move on to this season and he has already notched a top ten at Silverado, another tree lined venue.
As Tom Kim has shown us of late this is very much a young man’s game at the moment and I am happy to side with Sahith here this week.
DAVIS RILEY – 66/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 67th
Finally this week I will take my chances on another maiden Davis Riley. Riley who like Theegala is embarking on his second sophomore season on the PGA Tour took his time to get out of the blocks in 21/22 however that all changed at the Valspar in March where he pushed Sam Burns all the way before ultimately coming up just short in second.
That result of course very much catches the eye for this week and if you then factor in that his second best effort if the season came at Colonial where he was fourth and that after a run of poorer results he bounced back with a 13th place at the Wyndham Riley leaps off the page to me this week as to someone who should love this par 70 challenge.
A look at Davis’ stats for 21/22 tells us what we already know about him, that he is a neat and tidy player who does pretty much everything really solidly with only his short game around the green perhaps letting him down.
Riley started his 22/23 season with a missed cut at the Fortinet however he will take plenty of heart from a strong week at his home event the Sanderson Farms, an event he calls his fifth Major, and having chosen to skip Vegas he should arrive here fresh and in good spirits.
I’ll close then this week by chancing Riley to deliver a big performance on a track, which I think will really suit his game.