By Tyler Duke
Each week, we will highlight our top players on the PGA TOUR in order of likeliness to win the tournament.
Factors coming into play on the rankings are (in no order):
- Recent form: How the player has performed in various aspects of his game in recent weeks.
- Course history: How the player has performed at the host course if he has played there in the past.
- Course fit: Used as a secondary or backup to course history, fit looks at certain skills that translate to success on the host course.
- Strokes gained: Strokes gained will come into play in all of the factors above. Unless otherwise noted, strokes gained stats are taken from the player’s last 50 rounds.
Using the guidelines above to create a statistical model, value can be found in the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP betting market by highlighting players whose outlook for the tournament may be flying under the radar to the general public.
The weighted model this week is:
- 25% SG: Approach
- 20% Good Drives Gained
- 20% Greens in Regulations Gained
- 15% SG: Around the Green
- 10% Par 4: 350-400 Yards
- 10% SG: Putting
This week: ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
- Date: October 121-24, 2021
- Location: Chiba, Japan
- Course: Accordia Golf Narashino CC
- How to watch: Golf Channel
- Purse: $9,950,000
- Defending champ: Patrick Cantlay
Course preview: Accordia Golf Narashino CC
The PGA Tour finally heads overseas to Japan for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP just outside of Tokyo. Typically part of a three-week stay in Asia between the CJ Cup, ZOZO and WGC-HSBC, the ZOZO is the only event that remained as scheduled during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This will be the third running of the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP on the PGA Tour after the second was held at Sherwood Country Club last year. Narashino hosted the inaugural event in 2019.
The CJ Cup @ Summit gave us a special leaderboard down the stretch on Sunday in Las Vegas. Rickie Fowler showed some promise toward getting back to himself by leading throughout most of Saturday and into Sunday before a costly double bogey on a Par 5 derailed his round. Rory McIlroy – ranked No. 1 in our rankings last week – withheld a charge from Collin Morikawa and grabbed his second win of the year to vault back into the Top 10 in the world.
Narashino Country Club was designed back in 1976 by Kinya Fujita and is a classical Japan-style golf course located just outside of Tokyo in Chiba. We’ve only gotten to see it once – in Tiger Woods’ record-tying victory in 2019 – and it was a rain-soaked course that may have looked a bit different than what we’ll see this week. Narashino has hosted some big events on the Japan Golf Tour throughout its history before landing a PGA Tour event. Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros are two of the notable names to have won here.
As a Par 70 that is expected to run at around 7,000 yards, Narashino is certainly a short course by PGA Tour standards. But the layout and the distribution of that yardage is quite unique and unlike something we’ll see all year on the Tour schedule. Ten Par 4s, five Par 3s and three Par 5s is unique enough – so is the Par 34/Par 36 setup of the nines, but it’s the strange yardages of the Par 4s that really sets Narashino apart. There are no Par 4s on the course that run between 426 and 485 yards. In 2019, five of them were below that threshold and five were below.
The other thing we’ll see this week but won’t really be in play much is the double greens on each hole at Narashino. This is common in Japan due to the extremes of the climate. The Bent greens are used in cooler months while the other greens are used in the hot months to let the Bent get a break. We’ll see Bent this week, and while there was one hole that used both greens throughout the week in 2019, we’re not sure how that will be set up this year.
For statistics this week, we still don’t have much data since there has only been one tournament hosted here and there was no strokes gained data taken for the tournament. We did get basic statistics though, and just looking at the leaderboard showed that elite iron players seemed to be the play in 2019. Any time you see guys like Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama and Corey Conners at the top, you know that irons are favored.
We’ll take a big premium on SG: Approach and Greens in Regulations Gained for our model this week. This tight, parkland styled course in Japan also has tiny greens, so I prefer guys who can play for the middle of the green this week instead of flag hunters like we’ve wanted as of late. Green percentages played well last year and should even more so this week.
Along with that, I’m going with Good Drives Gained for the driving statistic this week. Distance isn’t overly important on most parkland courses in Japan because of the amount of doglegs and how tight it plays. The rough also shouldn’t be overly penalizing, so simply keeping it out of the trees and in play to hit a green is what we care about this week. Good Drives Gained is the best way to measure that since it counts fairways as well as drives that still led to a green in regulation.
The short game will likely need to be tidy with such small greens, so we’ll look at SG: Around the Green at a decent chunk. Putting could be hard to predict this week, so while I’ll throw it lightly in the model, it’s not being weighed much at all on these small greens.
Finally, I’ll throw in Par 4: 350-400 Yards since players will get five Par 4s at close to that yardage this week. Those holes, along with the two reachable Par 5s, will be players’ chance to score since the rest of the course should be quite difficult. These numbers should show players that have been driving it in ideal spots to create wedge opportunities that often turn into birdies.
The field is a bit weak for a no-cut event with a large purse. But that’s no surprise with the travel required to play and only one event in Asia instead of the three weeks some players would be spending there on the normal schedule. Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Hideki Matsuyama and Will Zalatoris will headline a top-heavy field that then turns into some lower tier Tour players along with a nice group of Asian players that will get their chance on the big stage. Patrick Cantlay will not be defending his ZOZO win from Sherwood last year, and Tiger Woods will also not be able to defend his Narashino win from 2019.
ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP Power Rankings
20. Pat Perez : Not a guy who finds his way onto these rankings too often, but a limited field and some decent play throws him in the picture. Finishes of 10th, 11th, 14th and 16th in his last 7 starts have been led by great putting and irons. Hits it pretty straight off the tee as well. Ranks 4th in SG: P and 10th in SG: APP.
19. Doug Ghim : One of the premiere iron players on Tour throughout last season started to struggle late but has put together a couple of nice ball striking performances in a row to think he might be back. Lack of distance tends to really hurt him on a lot of courses, but that could be neutralized this week. Ranks 21st in Good Drives.
18. Matt Wallace : He’s been really inconsistent this year, but the good weeks have turned into some top results. Gained 4.4 strokes on approach at Shriners in a 14th. Theoretically it’s a nice fit and he should be higher, but he’s burned me a lot this year with surprised missed cuts. Ranks 2nd in Par 4: 350-400 Yards and 9th in Good Drives.
17. Takumi Kanaya : The young Japanese star is a special talent and will surely be seen on the European or PGA Tour more soon. He hasn’t found much success in his rare PGA Tour starts yet, but this week should be a good opportunity for him. Rarely finishes outside of the Top 20 in Japan Golf Tour starts, and he’ll obviously be more comfortable than most this week.
16. Cameron Tringale : Not as high on him as many this week due to a decline in his iron play as of late and how often he can get wayward with a driver that isn’t all that long already. Still can get it rolling as hot as anyone and can really hit wedges tight … that will play well here if he keeps it out of the trees. Ranks 5th in Par 4: 350-400 Yards and 8th in SG: P.
15. Keegan Bradley : Finished 13th here in 2019 and has been hitting it well again as of late. The issue right now is the very rare weeks in which he rolls in some putts and scrambles nicely, he tends to have the rare off week with the irons. Like him more as a DFS play since it’s hard to see him winning again as of now. Ranks 2nd in SG: APP and 3rd in Greens in Regulations Gained.
14. Rickie Fowler : Came out of nowhere to finish 3rd last week after some good vibes from his Friday at the Shriners. The driver was his best club last week, but the irons were also strong for the most part. If he putted it well, it would have been his first win in nearly 3 years. Tends to run hot, so this should be a good spot to contend again if the energy is there. Ranks 7th in SG: ARG.
13. Joaquin Niemann : Grades out really poorly for this week, which is really surprising for a guy who is known as an elite iron player. Unfortunately, the irons have been mostly mediocre as of late and the short game has been a disaster. Still, he’s a top talent in this field and shouldn’t be completely ignored. Ranks 29th in GIRs Gained.
12. Maverick McNealy : Premiere wedge player who should fit this course really nicely if he can survive the longer holes and have a strong putting week. Consistent player all around for the most part but tends to struggle a bit on more difficult courses, which this one may be compared to recent. Ranks 1st in Par 4: 350-400 Yards and 4th in SG: ARG.
11. Tommy Fleetwood : Top name in the field who continues to struggle on the PGA Tour as of late. He’s been fine on the European Tour, even in strong fields, so these poor finishes have been perplexing. The irons have been stunningly bad, and the putter isn’t going well. But in a field like this, a solid week could equal contention. Ranks 12th in SG: ARG.
10. Adam Schenk : Continues to oddly transform his game from a pure power player to a good iron player and elite putter. He nearly won Shriners while losing strokes off the tee, something that would have seemed impossible for him in the past. He seems to be comfortable laying back now and could be in line for another strong week. Ranks 3rd in SG: P.
9. Hideki Matsuyama : Lost an outrageous 9.6 strokes on the greens in the CJ Cup despite striking it pretty well overall. That’s been the trend for months now as the putter has single-handedly taken him out of the majority of tournaments he’s played in. If you’re taking a chance on him, you’re hoping it’s average. Ranks 11th in SG: ARG.
8. Chris Kirk : Starting to play some solid golf as of late again after some struggles in the middle of the year. The irons still aren’t where we saw them earlier in the year, but they’re trending in the right direction with a hot putter in Vegas last week as well. Ranks 16th in Par 4: 350-400 Yards and 18th in Good Drives.
7. Jhonattan Vegas : Another nice week at the CJ Cup despite the putter starting to trend in the right direction. The irons have been in the positive in every start since Colonial in May. Drives it decently accurate for someone with as much distance as him. Only concern here is he plays best at birdie fests. Ranks 2nd in GIRs Gained and 2nd in Par 4: 350-400 Yards.
6. Henrik Norlander : Likely a popular play this week due to some of the elite performances he’s put together with his irons as of late. He can run really hot with those irons as well, so catching him on one of those weeks along with a decent putter could put him in contention. Accurate off the tee as well. Ranks 7th in SG: APP and 8th in SG: ARG.
5. Xander Schauffele : The gold medalist in Japan a few months back is coming in off a nice Sunday at the CJ Cup after uninspiring play the rest of the week. The harder the conditions, the more I’d like him this week. Surprisingly doesn’t grade out too well this week due to some shaky short game play and an inconsistent driver as of late. Ranks 3rd in SG: APP.
4. C.T. Pan +4500: One of my favorite plays this week at his price due to in-form irons and a hot putter in his last couple starts. Finishes of 6th and 11th to start his season were impressive, and he really has the game to contend at this course. The driver generally stays straight, so it’s a nice spot this week. Ranks 9th in GIRs Gained and 11th in SG: APP.
3. Collin Morikawa : Nearly had an insane Sunday to steal a win away in Las Vegas last week. We’ll see if there’s any fatigue coming over, but he obviously has the irons and straight driver needed to play well at Narashino. Finally putted well last week after a miserable stretch before, so that will likely be the key for a win or not. Ranks 8th in SG: APP and 8th in Good Drives.
2. K.H. Lee : The most popular play of the week is coming in with some really nice form and off a breakout season on the PGA Tour. He won once and was in contention multiple times. He’s an elite driver of the ball on shorter courses, gets really hot with the irons and can get streaky on the greens. He’s won numerous times in Japan and should be comfortable this week. Ranks 4th in Good Drives and 7th in GIRs Gained.
1. Will Zalatoris : The missed cut at the Shriners is of no concern as he hit the ball fine. The irons have been getting back to the elite form we saw earlier in the year, he drives it great, and he always plays better on tougher courses where finding the middle of greens is important. The game fits perfect this week and it’s a great spot for a breakout win. He just needs to putt it decently. Ranks 1st in GIRs Gained, 5th in Par 4: 350-400 Yards and 7th in Good Drives.
*All stats are from a player’s last 36 rounds unless otherwise stated
Up next on TOUR
The PGA Tour will stay away from the United States for another week as it heads to the beautiful island of Bermuda for the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. This will be the third running of the Bermuda Championship. It will be a standalone event with full FedExCup points and a Masters exemption rewarded to the winner for the second year in a row due to the cancellation of the WGC-HSBC Champions. Brian Gay will be defending his title as the No. 382nd ranked player in the world.