ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP: The PGA Tour travels to the Far East this week for the ZOZO Championship, a co-sanctioned event with the Japan Tour that will be held at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club for the second consecutive year and third time since 2019. You would think that this tournament would have trouble drawing a strong field due to the location and time of year, but money talks, and an $11 million purse has drawn several Tour stars overseas to compete with the Japan Tour’s best and has made this the premier event of the 2022 Fall Series.
The golf course, by all accounts, is an absolute gem: a par-70 that measures 7,079 yards, Narashino CC features narrow, tree-lined fairways and small, firm, undulating greens. Precision with the irons is of the utmost importance due to the severe nature of the greens, and such precision is nearly impossible from the sticky rough that lines every hole, so players will need to find fairways in order to give themselves birdie opportunities. We saw some super-low scoring at Narashino back in 2019, when some guy named Tiger posted 19-under to walk away with the trophy, but conditions were firmer last year and the course bared its teeth, as Japanese hero Hideki Matsuyama posted 15-under and was five shots clear of the field. Firm and fast conditions are expected this week, so I’d be surprised if this one turns into a birdie fest.
Matsuyama is back to defend and is currently trading at 14.0 at BETDAQ, with only Xander Schauffele (10.0) and Sungjae Im (12.0) carrying shorter odds. None of the Japan Tour regulars are priced shorter than 164.0 despite some obvious advantages, and being that it’s a limited 78-man field you’d think that it may be a week to take a chance on some of the longer-odds types. With that being said, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Tom Kim (18.0)- We may be late to the party, but I’m not sure the party is over. What is the ceiling for this kid? Most everybody (myself included) thought he may not be at his best last week after an emotional and presumably draining Presidents Cup, and all he did was play 72 bogey-free holes to breeze to a 3-shot victory. This comes two months after he quadruple-bogeyed the first hole at the Wyndham and went on to win, so at this point anything is possible. This is his debut appearance here, but who cares? The guy is simply better than everyone else right now, an insane talent with a 20-year old’s joyful fearlessness. May as well ride the wave until it breaks… I sure wouldn’t want to be betting against him.
Scott Stallings (46.0)- If you know Stallings’ game, you know that a short course with tight fairways and small, severe greens is right up his alley. He’s excellent with the short irons in his hands and has brilliant touch around the greens, and when he gets hot he can light it up– only five players on Tour made more birdies than Stallings last season. He was playing some tremendous golf towards the end of the summer and showed no signs of rust at the Sanderson Farms Championship two weeks ago, finishing T13 despite a disappointing final-round 73. That gives him six top-15 finishes in his past eight starts, and as a 3-time winner on the PGA Tour he’s shown that he can close the deal. Stallings will contend this week I believe, making him a great value at a price like 46.0.
Mackenzie Hughes (84.0)- I’m frankly stunned at Hughes’ price here… with the way he’s been playing lately I thought he’d be somewhere in the 40/1 range. I mean, we’re only two weeks removed from his victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship, so he clearly has the form, nerve, and confidence to get the job done, and unlike someone like Tom Kim he actually has past success at Narashino to draw on, as he finished 4th in this tournament last year and was one of only six players in the field to shoot par or better all four rounds. I’m sure in his own mind he’s one of the favorites this week, and, well, maybe he should be. He’s certainly worth a bet at better than 80/1.