Featured in last week’s article, Justin Thomas got the job done as the betting favorite (+775) at the CJ Cup in South Korea. He has been playing some incredible golf of late and is now number four in the OWGR. With the win last week, Thomas now has 10 PGA Tour victories since the 2017-18 season. This is the most on tour — two more than Dustin Johnson and four more than Brooks Koepka. He will look to carry the momentum into the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan this week.
The PGA Tour will make its second of three stops in Asia for the Zozo Championship. This is another no-cut event like last week and the field is very strong. Rory Mcllroy and Tiger Woods will make their 2019-20 season debuts. Justin Thomas (+800) will once again be the betting favorite, followed by Rory McIlroy (+850) and Japanese native Hideki Matsuyama (+1800). This will be a difficult field to bet on with no course history to go off, but we will do our best to analyze what we have.
This week’s event will be played in Chiba, Japan, at Narashino Country Club. It is a relatively short golf course, only measuring at 7,041 yards. Despite the short length, it will still be a very good challenge. All of three par 5s measure at over 560 yards and will be difficult to birdie, let alone eagle. Five of the 10 par 4s measure at least 486 yards and will not be easily scorable. Golfers will have to do the majority of their scoring on the five par 4s that measure less than 425 yards.
The holes here are tree-lined and feature numerous doglegs. The greens will be bentgrass and the putting surfaces are small in size. The bizarre part about the greens here is that there are two of them per hole and golfers receive free drops if their ball lands on the wrong one.
- Strokes Gained: Ball Striking
- Par-4 Scoring
- Bogey Avoidance
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-green
- Performance on bentgrass greens
Best Bets to Win
Rory McIlroy (+850 on DraftKings Sportsbook)
The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year sets up extremely well here. He is first in par-004 scoring, first in bogey avoidance, first in strokes gained: off-the-tee, and first in strokes gained: tee-to-green. McIlroy has the distance off the tee to drive some of these short par 4s and reach some of these longer par 5s in two. He also sneakily ranks first in par-3 scoring and this course will feature five of them.
There are no holes in McIlroy’s golf game right now, and even his putting has been scorching hot of late. According to FutureofFantasy.com, McIlroy is third in the PGA in strokes gained: putting on bentgrass greens since 2014. He has been in Japan all week getting acclimated to the climate and even participated in the skins match on Monday. I expect a powerful off-the-tee game from McIlroy to give him an edge on the field this week.
Xander Schauffele (+2800 on DraftKings Sportsbook)
Schauffele is no stranger to strong-field events and certainly thrives in these no-cut events. According to FutureofFantasy.com, Schauffele has gained an average of 2.351 strokes on the field in strong-field events. He had some impressive finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs last season and will be driven to start the new PGA season off with a bang.
Top 10 in both par-4 and par-5 scoring, Schauffele is impressively long off the tee and has great proximity numbers with his irons. In my custom model, he ranks 11th in strokes gained: tee-to-green, 22nd in strokes gained: off-the-tee, and 17th in birdie-or-better. The last time he played in Japan, he placed second behind Brooks Koepka at the Dunlop Pheonix Tournament in 2017. Expect Schauffele to feel comfortable in Asia and perform admirably.