Justin Thomas lived up to his billing as favourite in South Korea last week. He was brilliant from start to finish in the CJ Cup and will hope to carry that form with him to Japan as he competes in the maiden Zozo Championship. This new event is co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and Japan Golf Tour in a six year partnership between the two bodies.
The field is made up of 78 players from across both tours. Barring withdrawals, all 78 will complete the four days as there is no cut. That opens up the chance for players to make a late surge through the pack but the strength of the field suggests that the eventual winner will need to play well on all four days. Paul Casey is used to starting well and working his way into contention early on. The way he’s played of late suggests he can hold off the challenge even of such a strong field if he does indeed start well so he looks a very tempting price at 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
A new tournament means a new course for players and punters alike to try and work out. Narashino Country Club is a highly prestigious club just to the east of Tokyo. The members have a choice of three different courses to play and the Zozo Championship will be played on a layout comprising holes from all three. The result is a par 70 which will play to a yardage of just 7,041 yards.
On first look, Narashino is not going to challenge the high calibre field in terms of length. There are five par threes on the composite course and a collection of short par fours which will give an advantage to players who have their best ball striking week. However, the par fives and some of the par fours are very long, so the winner will need a combination of power and technique.
|Narashino Country Club||Tokyo, Japan||7,041 Yards||$9,500,000|
Analysis: Tee Shots Will be Crucial
This is a very big event for the PGA Tour and potentially for the future of golf as we move closer to a global tour. The game’s administrators will, therefore, be delighted by the strength of the field assembled in Tokyo. Last week’s winner, Justin Thomas, will be joined by the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Japanese star, Hideki Matsuyama. The quality of the field means that whoever prevails will be a worthy winner and with almost $10m up for grabs they will be well rewarded too.
The winner will need all areas of their game to be in good working order but what they do off the tee could perhaps be the most important aspect. Despite the length on the card, power will be crucial on many of the holes, whilst accuracy will be important on the longer holes due to the course’s tree-lined nature and the tricky par threes.
Global Golfer Casey Can Prevail
The PGA Tour has been breaking new ground around the world for some years now but it’s fair to say that some have taken to the idea of an increasingly global game better than others. Paul Casey is one of those who loves travelling to new countries and competing at new courses.
Casey has wins on the PGA Tour, European Tour, Asian Tour and Korean Tour. The quality of his long term form suggests he can add the Japan Golf Tour to that list this week. Casey ranks ninth for strokes gained off the tee on the PGA Tour in 2019 and sixth in terms of strokes gained from tee to green. He has the power required to score well on the longer holes at Narashino Country Club and the skill to outscore the field on the par threes, so looks very well priced at big odds of 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
Garcia Has All the Required Tools
The European Tour is a long way ahead of the PGA Tour in terms of hosting events all around the world. Sergio Garcia has been playing on the European Tour for over 20 years so, like Casey, he has a vast wealth of experience playing golf all over the world. Garcia is also similar to Casey in that he has the sort of game that should work very well in the Zozo Championship.
Garcia is excellent off the tee, whether he’s hitting his driver, fairway woods or irons. He’s also one of the very best ball strikers in the world so capitalises on good drives more often than not. The world number 34 hasn’t been able to produce his best golf as often as he would like of late but right now his game looks in a decent enough place. He won the KLM Open not long ago and followed that up with a top seven at his home Open and despite a so-so performance at the CJ Cup we think a return to the top 20 is likely sooner rather than later.
When his putter is hot, Garcia is capable of winning any tournament that he enters and he certainly represents good each way value this week in Japan at 50/1 with bet365.
Final Verdict: Paul Casey to Win
Paul Casey is arguably in the best long term run of form of his life. He heads to Japan on the back of a rare missed cut but his three results before that were 11-1-3. That win came in the European Open and was his second of 2019, the other coming at the Valspar Championship. That makes it a win in Europe and America this year and he may well add a win in Asia at best odds of 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
About the Zozo Championship
The Zozo Championship was established in 2019, becoming the first event played in Japan to be given a regular slot on the PGA Tour. The tournament is held at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.
The field is made up of 78 of the world’s best players, with the first edition won by the great Tiger Woods. A very healthy prize fund of $9.75m was up for grabs in Japan in 2019, with Woods winning a share of $1.75m in prize money. The 2019 event was a successful competition on the PGA Tour, and the current deal will last until at least 2025.
Woods Wins Inaugural Tournament in Japan
Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour victory came way back in October 1996, as a young Tiger picked up the Las Vegas Invitational. Over the years, Woods has turned himself into one of the best players of all time, winning a staggering 82 PGA Tour events (at the time of writing… there could well be more to come!). Number 82 came in the first ever Zozo Championship in October 2019.
Tiger was pushed close by home favourite Hideki Matsuyama. However, Woods led wire-to-wire in Japan, winning by three strokes in an eventful competition. Woods posted rounds of 64, 64, 66 and 67 to get the job done, and though Matsuyama wasn’t too far behind (he shot 65-67-65-67), he just couldn’t haul Tiger in.
As much as the Japanese fans would have liked a home winner, seeing Woods tie Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories was a wonderful moment for the first Zozo Championship. Golf fans in Japan are accustomed to seeing some decent players visit them in various Asian Tour events, but this was another level in terms of class and prestige.
After his historic win, the Californian said, “Well, it’s a big number. It’s about consistency and doing it for a long period of time. I’m very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had so far.” Woods added Japan to America, England, Scotland, Spain, Canada and Ireland to the list of countries that he’s won in.
Who Could Win the Zozo?
With most PGA Tour events we have at least a few years of stats and information to go on which is a great help when attempting to assess which players are likely to win them. Given this event is new on the scene, it is going to be difficult to predict which players are going to do well in it, at least for a while.
Having said that, the nature of the par-70 course does lend itself to certain types of players. At 7,041 yards, it is not long by modern standards, or indeed when compared to most courses on the PGA Tour. In fact it’s more than 700 yards shorter than the monster 7,765 yard Torrey Pines South Course and 400 or so shorter than Augusta.
The tree-lined course used for the Zozo Championship can be unforgiving to any shots that stray far from the fairway, so driving accuracy is paramount. There are also few opportunities for eagles unless serious risks are taken, but steady birdie-makers are likely to do well. Rory McIlroy’s balanced and accurate game allowed him to finish in third position in the inaugural tournament and we can see him doing well in future years, with the likes of Justin Thomas, Keegan Bradley and even Ian Poulter likely to enjoy playing here.