ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP: The PGA Tour has long been trying to extend its reach globally and position itself as a true “world tour”, and the collaboration with the Japan Tour on an elite limited-field event featuring the biggest names in the sport was just another step in that mission. The tournament borne of this collaboration, the ZOZO Championship, was to be the first ever official PGA Tour event staged in Japan, and while it went off as planned in 2019, the pandemic changed everything, and now this formerly unique, far-flung tournament is just another West Coast stop on the Tour’s Fall Series schedule.
Of course, the Fall Series tourneys are seeing different types of fields this year on account of a little invitational being held in the North Georgia pines in a couple of weeks, and for that reason, and $8 million others, the field this week is stacked, with names like Rahm, Schauffele, McIlroy, and Thomas crowding the top of BETDAQ’s Win Market. There are only 78 players total and there’s no cut, so these guys will have plenty of time to get hot. That means we should probably look for those with a heightened ability to get hot and go low, especially since the course– Sherwood Country Club, a 7,000-yard layout with five par-5s– is likely to yield lots of birdies.
If Sherwood sounds vaguely familiar, you probably remember it from the old Hero World Challenge, which was staged there from 2000-2013. It was Tiger’s event, and he absolutely dominated, finishing either 1st or 2nd in 10 of his 12 appearances. He’s not the same player these days, obviously, but he is teeing it up this week, and if you think he can wake up the echoes you may want to consider throwing a couple of bucks his way at 48.0.
Sherwood is very short by Tour standards, but the greens are small and severe in spots. Some players have talked this week about the importance of precision with the irons, especially if things firm up, because missing it in the wrong spot can leave an impossible up-and-down. Accuracy will be more important than distance off the tee, as many holes take driver out of the players’ hands and force them to essentially all hit it in the same spot, while over-aggressiveness can bring water into play on several holes. Not many if the field will have played Sherwood in competition, and most of those who have are now past their golfing primes, so there will be an element of newness and unpredictability this week, much like last week at Shadow Creek. Let’s hope our picks fare better… there wasn’t much drama last weekend!
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Webb Simpson (21.0)- Simpson has played in five tournaments over the past two months, and he’s been razor sharp, finishing 3rd at the Wyndham Championship, T6 at The Northern Trust, 12th at the Tour Championship, T8 at the U.S. Open, and T13 at the Shriners a couple of weeks ago, where he shot 68 or better in all four rounds. He seems to be peaking just in time for Augusta, and the setup at Sherwood this week, with its modest length, narrow fairways, and small targets, should suit him perfectly. He’s one of the few in the field who has actually played Sherwood in competition, and he fared quite well, finishing solo 5th in the 2013 Hero World Challenge, six shots off the pace set by Tiger Woods and Zach Johnson. And then there’s this nugget I came across, courtesy of The Caddie Network: Simpson was the only player on the PGA Tour to rank in the top-3 in both par-5 scoring and par-3 scoring in 2019-20. You think he might like a course with five par-5s and five par-3s? Well… he’s found one this week. And I’ve found my favorite bet on the board.
Russell Henley (60.0)- You’ve probably heard the saying that a pro golfer makes 90% of his money 10% of the time, and in the case of a guy like Russell Henley, it’s certainly true. Henley can go long stretches with any success to speak of– he missed five cuts in a row at one point last season, for instance– but when he’s hot, you’ll find him on the first page of leaderboards. It just so happens that he’s currently in the midst of one of those hot streaks, finishing 27th or better in each of his past five starts and logging three top-10s in that span. The best result came last week, when he carried the lead into Sunday before settling for 3rd at the CJ Cup. Shadow Creek is similar in many ways to what the players will see at Sherwood this week, and given his recent trajectory, Henley should be full of confidence right now. He’s a tremendous value at a price like 60.0.
Brendon Todd (120.0)- An opening-round 77 derailed Todd at Shadow Creek last week, but he played pretty well after that, improving each round and shooting 5-under over the weekend. It was proof that the the form which propelled him to semi-stardom this season has not deserted him, and as we’ve learned, anytime a course doesn’t require length off the tee, Todd is one to watch. Sherwood is such a course, and Todd has been cranking out the birdies pretty steadily lately, finding the top-25 in 7 of his past 11 starts. He proved just what he’s capable of nearly 12 months ago with his back-to-back victories in Bermuda and Mexico, and he’s the quintessential “when he gets hot, look out!” guy, especially on the greens, so the 72-hole no-cut format should suit him. Todd has been a great one to back at long odds for a couple of years now, and that remains true this week.