Out of the Rough: ZOZO Championship (2023)
The PGA TOUR continues its fall swing with a trip to Japan for the fifth installment of the ZOZO Championship.
This event is co-sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and the Japan Golf Tour and was first put into place in 2019 to expand the PGA TOUR’s global footprint.
Unlike the first three stops we’ve seen on the PGA TOUR’s fall swing, this week’s event features a limited field and will feature several of the biggest names in the sport.
Following the now debunked WGC events, the ZOZO Championship is the only Asian based event on the Tour’s schedule.
With being a limited field event, we’ll see just 78 golfers take part this week. Fifteen of those names within the field are members of the Japan Golf Tour
This is the strongest field, at least at the top, that we’ve seen during the PGA TOUR’s fall swing with the likes of Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler and hometown hero, Hideki Matsuyama teeing it up this week.
The inaugural edition of this event was won by none other than Tiger Woods who used this event as his 82nd and latest victory on Tour.
The 2020 edition took place state-side due to the pandemic.
The 2021 edition was won by Japan’s own Matsuyama who won it the same year he won The Masters.
Keegan Bradley is the defending champion of this event after winning a year ago and will be back this week in an attempt to match Tom Kim (who just repeated as the Shriners Children’s Open Champion a week ago.)
As we continue into the FedEx Cup Fall season, there is still a lot to play for as the top 125 within the standings are guaranteed full playing rights for the 2024 season.
Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba, Japan will be the host this week and has held three of the previous four editions of this event.
It plays as a Par 70 at 7,079 yards.
This infamous Japanese track was opened in 1965 during the height of the Japanese golf craze and was designed with inspiration from the classical work of Great Britain golf architecture.
Narashino Country Club is a 36-hole facility made up of two separate courses (King and Queen) and this week’s event will consist of a composite of the two courses.
This venue was built in a way to mask the urban and suburban surroundings in an effort to allow those playing to escape the every-day working grind.
Due to this, each hole features a wall of trees to block out the surrounding area. With the wall of trees comes very narrow and tight fairways.
Other lines of defense offered by this course is water that is in play on several holes and the inclusion of a multitude of bunkers.
Older golf courses in Japan, such as this one, feature two greens on every hole so golf could be played all year round. Since then, the greens at Narashino have been converted to Bentgrass which removed the need for multiple greens.
However, to honor the two-green tradition, the PGA TOUR has included one hole per year to be played using both greens. In 2019 it was the par-four fourth hole and in 2021 and 2022 they used the fifth hole to continue the tradition.
If a golfer lands on the incorrect green, the “wrong green” local rule will be enforced which will allow the golfer relief off the green no closer to the hole and no penalty will be enforced.
The greens featured this week are also smaller than average to go along with the already narrow and tree-lined fairways.
Accuracy off the tee will be of the utmost importance to not only find the fairways and stay away from the trees, but to avoid the water and sand in play.
Accurate iron play will then continue the need for accuracy to find these smaller-than-average greens.
Additionally, putting has been one of the most important aspects of this course through the previous three editions.
Throughout the four days of this event, there is a projected slight chance of precipitation with projections set at 20-percent on Thursday and 30-percent for Friday through Sunday. Temperatures will begin with a high of 75 and 77-degrees for Thursday and Friday respectively before falling to 70-degrees on Saturday and 64-degrees come Sunday.
Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP)
Proximity to the Hole from 175-plus Yards
Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass (SG: PUTT Bentgrass)
Par 5 Average Scoring
Par 3 Average Scoring
Greens in Regulation Percentage (GIR%)
Driving Accuracy / Good Drives Gained
With this being a limited field event, I’m suggesting just one player per price range. There are just four golfers in this $10,000-plus price range and I’m going with the second most expensive guy in Collin Morikawa ($10,800.) Morikawa is currently second on Tour in SG: APP, third in both GIR% and driving accuracy, sixth in all three of par five average scoring, par three average scoring and good drives gained, tenth in ball striking, 17th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 90th in scrambling and 126th in SG: PUTT Bentgrass. This will be the first time since the Ryder Cup that we’ve seen Morikawa but he did finish the 2022-2023 PGA TOUR season T6th at the Tour Championship. Morikawa has also played this event in all three of the previous editions held in Japan. He’s on my betting card for two units at +1100.
I couldn’t walk away this week without having Hideki Matsuyama ($9,800) in my lineups. We last saw Matsuyama at the FedEx St. Jude Championship where he placed T16th. He then went on to withdraw from the BMW Championship but that was roughly two months ago. He’s back on home soil ready to get back to his winning ways. He’s currently 12th on Tour in SG: APP, 18th in scrambling, 20th in bogey avoidance, 28th in par three average scoring, 33rd in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 53rd in par five average scoring, 71st in driving accuracy, 81st in GIR%, 90th in ball striking and 105th in good drives gained. His downfalls come on the greens as he ranks 162nd on TOUR in SG: PUTT Bentgrass. We know he’s capable of spike putting weeks. In his last outing at the BMW Championship he finished the week by gaining 0.216 strokes on the greens. He’s a guy that doesn’t have to putt lights out to win a tournament if he can remain around even on the greens. He’s on my betting card at +1800 for two units.
I’m living at the bottom of the price range here with Aaron Rai ($8,000.) Rai is someone I’m really high on this week and he’s making an appearance on my betting card at +5500 for one unit. He’s currently second on Tour in good drives gained, fourth in driving accuracy, 12th in GIR%, 16th in ball striking, 35th in SG: APP, 41st in par five average scoring, 49th in bogey avoidance, 74th in scrambling, 103rd in SG: PUTT Bentgrass, 108th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards and 125th in par three average scoring. Rai played last week at the Shriners Children’s Open where he placed T28th. He’s also played a bit on the DP World Tour since the end of the season where he placed T2nd at the BMW PGA Championship about a month ago.
Along with Rai, I’m also super high on J.J. Spaun ($7,900) this week. He’s played in two of the previous three fall swing events placing T11th at the Fortinet Championship and T46th at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open. He also finished the past season with a T24th at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. On Tour, he currently is fourth in scrambling, sixth in bogey avoidance, 15th in par three average scoring, 17th in ball striking, 19th in GIR%, 25th in good drives gained, 45th in driving accuracy, 54th in both SG: APP and proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards and 95th in par five average scoring. His downfalls come on the greens where he ranks 153rd in SG: PUTT Bentgrass. Spaun was rather poor on the greens last week but at the Fortinet gained 1.301 strokes on the greens. A good putting week should put Spaun into contention. He’s on the betting card at +4500.
Kevin Yu ($6,600) continues to tumble down the pricing on DFS and the betting books and that’s for good reason. He has not been good as of late. He’s missed the cut at each of the three fall swing events thus far this season. But, if you know me, you know I’m a big Kevin Yu guy. A golfer of his ability won’t be kept down forever and if he wants to secure a PGA TOUR card for 2024, he needs to get going. Stats wise, he measures up perfectly this week. He’s currently first on the entire Tour in ball striking, second in GIR%, fourth in good drives gained, 22nd in par five average scoring, 24th in proximity to the hole from 175-plus yards, 55th in par three average scoring, 57th in driving accuracy, 62nd in SG: APP and 70th in bogey avoidance. Now for the downfalls. He’s currently 144th on Tour in SG: PUTT Bentgrass and we know that’s where his biggest weakness is. He’s also 167th in scrambling, which is one off being the worst on the entire tour. If he can avoid the trouble and keep his head straight, it’s just a matter of time before he’s in contention. Of course he’s on the betting card at +15000.
Collin Morikawa (+1100) - 2u
Hideki Matsuyama (+1800) - 2u
J.J. Spaun (+4500)
Aaron Rai (+5500)
Kevin Yu (+15000)