This article is part of our FanDuel PGA series.
The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
Course: Narashino Country Club (7,041 yards, par 70)
Winner: $1,791,000 and 500 FedExCup points
The third installment of the Zozo Championship will be heading back to Narashino Country Club in Japan after it was moved to Sherwood Country Club in southern California last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The PGA Tour will return to the site of Tiger Woods' historic last PGA Tour win back in 2019 when he bested the hometown hero Hideki Matsuyama by three shots. Matsuyama will be returning again in 2021 where 5,000 spectators will be there to cheer him on each day. Xander Schauffele is returning back to the country he won an Olympic Gold Medal in back in August. Neither of the first two winners of this event (Woods and Patrick Cantlay) will be in the field this week for the 78-man, no-cut tournament that is co-sanctioned with the Japan Golf Tour Organization.
Narshino Country Club was opened back in 1965 and has hosted a number of high-level golf events in the country. The 36-hole facility in Chiba, Japan is expected to be the long-term home for this event and makeup a fall Asian-swing on the PGA Tour along with the CJ Cup in South Korea and the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. All of the events are limited field events with no 36-hole cuts and massive purses to try to attract the top players in the world in hopes of growing the game globally. The travel restrictions are likely the main reason why only three of the top-25 in the OWGR will be teeing it up at the Zozo Championship. The top-ranked player in the field is World No. 3 Collin Morikawa, who is coming off a runner-up finish at the CJ Cup @ Summit last week. Rickie Fowler will also be in Japan following his T3 in Las Vegas as he tries to make his way back to the golf elite.
Back in 2019, the finish to the Zozo Championship had to be moved back a day due to an extreme amount of rainfall. We are not forecasted to see that much rain again in 2021, but rain early in the week as well as in the second round will keep this course soft and gettable. Temperatures are not expected to extend beyond the mid-60's this week, while winds are not expected to be too significant.
Key Stats to Victory
- GIR Percentage
- SG: Approach
- Putts per GIR
- SG: Off-the-Tee
As is customary with many Japan courses, viewers may notice a second green when tuning in this week. That is done to keep the course playable during different seasons. It's possible that they could use different greens in different rounds during the Zozo Championship. In 2019 the par-4 fourth hole used both greens, but it was the only hole to do so. Nevertheless, all the putting surfaces will be targeted to run at up to 12 on the Stimpmeter, but with the moisture expected during the week it may not quite reach that number. The par-70 layout features three par-5's and five par-3's, which should place extra emphasis on being strong with your irons. If you look at the top-10 of the leaderboard from 2019, it really is a who's who of ball-striking with players like Tiger, Matsuyama, Sungjae Im, Rory McIlroy, Gary Woodland, Corey Conners, Charles Howell, Ryan Palmer, and Xander Schauffele. Like I've talked about the last few weeks, the conditions have this tournament likely to be another shootout. Hitting GIR's and sinking birdie putts should be the biggest keys to success once again. The greens here don't feature a ton of slope and their speed should allow for a lot of holed putts.
FanDuel Value Picks
Collin Morikawa ($12,000)
Morikawa is the best iron player in the world and should find this course much to his liking. He is coming off a 10-under 62 in the final round of last week's CJ Cup to finish just one shot shy of a potential playoff. The other positive from last week is how strong is sometimes balky putter was, as Morikawa ranked 11th in SG: Putting overall and was positive strokes gained on the greens in all four rounds.
Xander Schauffele ($11,900)
Schauffele will have a lot of confidence going into the Zozo Championship as he returns to Japan following his gold medal triumph over the summer. Like Morikawa, he too is a terrific iron player that is coming off a strong final round last week in Vegas. Schauffele also has an advantage of having seen this course before back in 2019 when he finished in a share of 10th place.
Will Zalatoris ($11,400)
Zalatoris ranks 25th in SG: Approach, 16th in SG: Tee-to-Green, and fourth in GIR percentage early in the season. He has already notched a pair of top-15s in three starts this season, something the PGA Tour rookie figures to do a lot of this year. Zalatoris seems to excel playing on soft golf courses where his length and ability to fire the ball right at the pin is a big advantage.
Tommy Fleetwood ($11,000)
Fleetwood has fallen off a touch over the last year or so, but he is starting to come back into form. He has not missed a cut since the PGA Championship in May and scored a trio of top-12 finishes in his last four starts worldwide. The Englishman has added quite a bit of length to his game over the past few seasons and remains and excellent short game player. Fleetwood finished T22 at Narashino in 2019.
Longer Shots with Value
C.T. Pan ($9,700)
Pan has had a great start to the season, posting a T6 in Napa and a T11 in Jackson. He didn't play during the Vegas swing so he will be well rested coming into a big time zone change. Pan also returns to Japan where he won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The 29-year-old ranks 11th in SG: Approach, 12th in SG: Putting, 16th in scrambling, and 10th in scoring average.
Takumi Kanaya ($9,200)
The former No. 1 amateur in the world is now up to a career-high 76th in the OWGR at just age 23. He has been tearing up the Japanese Tour, finishing T16 or better in his last seven starts. This is a big opportunity to show what he can do against a field of PGA Tour players.
Harry Higgs ($8,900)
Higgs has rebounded from a missed cut in his first start of the season with a T27 at TPC Summerlin and a T9 at the Summit Club. The strength of Higgs' game is typically short game and putting, but last week he led the field in par-3 scoring. That's something that Tiger Woods also led in route to his win here in 2019 and an extra par-3 should only help his cause.
Ryosuke Kinoshita ($7,600)
Kinoshita will be one of the top plays below the $8,000 mark this week. He is the second highest ranked Japanese player in the world behind Matsuyama and five top-10's in his last six starts. Kinoshita currently leads the Japanese Tour in earnings and GIR's, and like Kanaya is hoping to prove he can compete with PGA Tour players on his home soil.
Strategy Tips This Week
Based on a Standard $60K Salary Cap
Considering the nearly $10 million purse this week, this field is actually quite shallow. As I mentioned before, that mainly just has to do with the travel restrictions and the fact this is basically just a one-off for the Asian swing. It's pretty clear this week that the top-three this week of Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, and Hideki Matsuyama have a pretty sizable gap over the rest of the field in terms of win equity, so trying to roster one of them makes a lot of sense. One player I'd be careful with is Rickie Fowler, who is coming off his best golf in years last week at the CJ Cup, but makes a massive jump in salary to $11,200 which presents little to no value. As I mentioned in the profile, lean strong iron players this week but due to some of the unfamiliarity rostering a Japanese Tour player is also a solid idea to round out your squad. Remember to get those lineups in before Wednesday night because of the time change and enjoy some late-night golf action!