Tournament Preview ZOZO Championship

2022 ZOZO Championship Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club Before Tee Off

I am undefeated in terms of Outrights in Japan following the Xander Schauffele 11/1 cash at the Olympics earlier this summer, so it brings me great joy to return back to Japan this week for the 2022 ZOZO Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club. Japanese golf is awesome, the manicuring of the fairways and greens are immaculate, and there’s something about watching prime time golf through the wee hours of the night that I just love. Especially after only getting to watch about 9 holes of action last Sunday at the CJ Cup, I’ll take anything! I remember Tiger’s victory here in 2019 vividly, and while it’s a shame he’s not healthy enough to defend, I’m still looking forward to watching another tournament on these grounds again after COVID redirected the 2021 ZOZO Championship to Sherwood Country Club in Los Angeles where Patrick Cantlay went on to win the giant circle trophy.

The strength of field will be considerably worse than the first two ZOZO Championships we’ve seen. Part of that is a credit to COVID travel complications, or there may just be a list of top players who do not want to have to go back and forth to Japan twice in a four month span between the July Olympics and now. In any case, Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa will headline this field, just as they did at the Olympics, and they’ll be chased by solid names like Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, and Will Zalatoris. It’s a pretty steep and treacherous drop off after that, so before DFS pricing is released, I’m already thinking about some stars & scrubs builds.

Unlike the CJ Cup last week, we do at least have 4 rounds (albeit without SG data) to reference when looking to profile success for this week’s event. This course is not particularly long where distance is required, but it’s also not penal to miss the fairways, which means I’ll be putting more of an emphasis on Good Drives Gained, SG: APP, and SG: P this week. There’s also a ton of bunkers on this course and relatively small screens, so I’ll also be giving more of a bump to Scrambling/Sand Saves/SG: ARG on a track that should be a far more formidable test than what we’ve seen to kick off the Fall Swing so far. Here’s a look at everything you can expect from the 2022 ZOZO Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club!

Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,041
  • Par: 70 (5x 3’s / 10x 4’s / 3x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bent
  • Architect: Kinya Fujita
  • Median Score: -2
  • Comp Courses: Kasumigaseki CC, Sheshan International GC, Nine Bridges, TPC Kuala Lumpur, Harbour Town, TPC Sawgrass, Colonial, Glen Oaks, Waialae CC
  • Past Winners: Patrick Cantlay (21), Tiger Woods (20)

It can be misleading to judge the difficultly of a given course by the winning score alone. At Shadow Creek for example, Jason Kokrak won the 2021 CJ Cup with a score of -20; whenever we see a winning score in the 20s, we assume “Birdie Fest”. In reality, it was a moderate-to-difficult test for a majority of the field, with only 5 players shooting better than -13, and a final median score of -5. In no cut events where we don’t have a cutline to use as a barometer for difficulty, I’ve started to use median 4-day score as a better indicator for where an event stacks up on the spectrum of Grinder Course to Birdie Fest. Last week’s CJ Cup was a bona fide birdie fest, with the median final score landing at an absurd -15. The median score at the 2019 ZOZO Championship at Narashino? -2. All of that to say, don’t let Tiger Woods’ -19 victory in wet conditions fool you, this course is pretty tough!

At the inaugural ZOZO Championship in 2019, Tiger Woods famously delivered his historic 82nd career win in his first appearance back after a 2 month recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery. In classic Tiger fashion, he scorched the place with his irons and putter, cruising to a 3 stroke victory over Hideki Matsuyama and 6 strokes clear of Rory McIlroy & Sungjae Im who finished T3. This year, 23 players will return from that 2019 field. Of that list, there are 11 players who finished inside the Top 30 in their previous trip to Narashino: Hideki Matsuyama, Ryan Palmer, Xander Schauffele, Keegan Bradley, Paul Casey, Sung Kang, Adam Schenk, Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood, Emiliano Grillo, and Troy Merritt.

This course has five Par 3s, five 450+ yard Par 4s, and a 600+ Par 5. That’s 11 holes where birdies will be difficult to come by, where Par will be a fine score. There are then two Par 5s that should be reachable in two and three short Par 4s under 400 yards, where players will need to capitalize on in order to find themselves atop the leaderboard this week. The Top 10 players in Par 4: 350-400 Scoring are Xander Schauffele, Maverick McNealy, Matt Wallace, Jhonattan Vegas, Satoshi Kodaira, Alex Noren, Collin Morikawa, Doug Ghim, Henrik Norlander, and Cameron Tringale. The Top 10 players in Par 5: 550-600 are Henrik Norlander, Cameron Tringale, Garrick Higgo, Luke List, Brandon Hagy, Collin Morikawa, Troy Merritt, Pat Perez, Chan Kim, and Sepp Straka.

Every hole at Narashino has two sets of greens, one Bent grass, and the other a Bermuda/Zoysia blend. The purpose of this is to make the greenskeepers’ lives a living hell have the golf course best equipped to handle extreme seasonal weather changes between the cold winters (Bent) and harsh, dry summers (Bermuda/Zoysia), which is a common practice for Japanese golf architecture. This week with temperatures beginning to cool down, they’ll be favoring the Bent grass greens, just as they had at the inaugural ZOZO Championship in October 2019. With that said, you really can’t compare the manicuring and attention to detail we see in Japanese greens keeping to anything we’re used to seeing around the rest of the world. Maintaining a golf course in Japan is essentially a sacred art form, the industry standard. Ultimately what all this means is the greens will be running completely unblemished and pure, unlike any Bent grass greens we’d normally see in the United States, so I won’t be feeding SG: P (Bent) into my models this week. If you recall the Olympics back in July, they cut to a new player ever 15 seconds draining another 20 footer at Kasumigaseki, and I expect a similar volume of putts to fall this week. These greens are not Paspalum, but I’m assuming Fantasy National has logged it as Paspalum because they perform similar to a smooth, grainless Paspalum type of green that we would see at Kiawah Island, Mayakoba, Corales, and Coco Beach. Unfortunately we don’t see much Paspalum in the continental US, which means we have no SG: P data on Paspalum greens outside of the 2021 PGA Championship to reference. For what it’s worth, Matt Jones, Joaquin Niemann, Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, Brendan Steele, KH Lee, Wyndham Clark, and Harry Higgs each gained over 2 strokes putting at the PGA Championship this past year.

Key Stats

  • SG: APP
  • Good Drives Gained
  • Par 3 Scoring / Par 4 Scoring
  • Par 5: 550-600
  • GIRs Gained
  • Scrambling Gained
  • SG: P
  • Comp/International Course History

There’s no historic SG data to pull from this week, as we’re working outside ShotLink’s confines in the United States, so we’ll have to take some liberties with what we can pull from the ZOZO Championship results in 2019. Overall, the stats show that the fairways were hit at a lower rate than tour average, however Greens In Regulation were still above average. Considering the rough is short and not particularly penal, that checks out, and should put an emphasis mainly on Good Drives Gained, understanding this course does not necessarily need to be played out of the fairway. The Top 10 players in Good Drives Gained entering this week are Paul Casey, Brendon Todd, Collin Morikawa, Keegan Bradley, Kramer Hickok, Kyle Stanley, Will Zalatoris, KH Lee, Alex Noren, and Chan Kim. It would not be a PGA Tour event if we didn’t harp on SG:APP; the Top 10 approach players entering this week are Collin Morikawa, Paul Casey, Keegan Bradley, Kyle Stanley, Emiliano Grillo, Xander Schauffele, Henrik Norlander, Matthew NeSmith, Rikuya Hoshino, and Jhonattan Vegas.

Looking at Comp Courses this week, I think it’s as important to identify players who can travel overseas to Asia and perform well as it is to identify the players that have performed well on similar course layouts across the PGA Tour. From the overseas angle, I’m looking at performance at Kasumigaseki, Nine Bridges, Sheshan International, and TPC Kuala Lumpur. With this being a treelined, positional Par 70 course under 7,200 yards, I’m also looking at Colonial, Waialae CC, Glen Oaks, Harbour Town, and TPC Sawgrass as solid comps from the PGA Tour. Combine those together, and the Top 10 Comp Course History players are Ryan Palmer, Hideki Matsuyama, Keegan Bradley, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood, Joaquin Niemann, Emiliano Grillo, Charley Hoffman, and Alex Noren.

Overall, I think a player needs to be strong in SG: APP, Good Drives Gained, GIRs Gained, Scrambling, and have the ability to get a hot putter in order to contend this week. There are just 8 players who rate out above average in each of those categories: Will Zalatoris, Pat Perez, CT Pan, Adam Schenk, Chris Kirk, Doc Redman, Doug Ghim, and Henrik Norlander.

Spotlight: Hideki Matsuyama

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The literal spotlight will of course be pointed squarely on Japan’s biggest star as he makes his return to play in Japan for the first time since the Olympics in July. The notion of playing Hideki in Japan is obvious, almost as obvious as playing Collin Morikawa on his home course at The Summit Club last week. In the inaugural ZOZO Championship in 2019, there was speculation of whether Hideki could handle the pressure and distraction of playing in the first event on Japanese soil in PGA Tour history. He responded to that pressure by beating everyone in the field who is not the greatest golfer of all time by at least 3 strokes. Unfortunately for Hideki, Tiger Woods was in the field, so he walked away with a modest runner up finish. In his next return to Japan at the 2021 Olympics, Hideki was in contention throughout the final round and ultimately finished T4 after losing the 7-way Bronze medal playoff to CT Pan. Playing golf in Japan should feel foreign to almost everyone on the PGA Tour, but it’s clear in the early sample size we have, that Hideki finds comfort and familiarity in playing at home. After letting a few chances to secure a home win slip away, I have high hopes for Hideki to complete his revenge tour this week.

Matsuyama has not played a ton since his Masters victory last April, but in his 12 starts since, he has just 1 MC, and 3 finishes of T6 or better coming at the WGC FedEx, Olympics, and Fortinet Championship. In classic Hideki fashion, the ball striking has been consistently solid, ranking 10th in this field SG: BS, the putter has just continued to let him down. A trip back to home soil, however, has me optimistic that Hideki can piece together a positive putting performance to complement his elite ball striking.

From a value perspective, I would project that Collin Morikawa & Xander Schauffele open as co-favorites in the 12-14/1 range, and Hideki to follow in the next tier with Paul Casey. Despite the spotless form in Japan and at this course in particular, I expect to still see some value on Matsuyama’s price this week, considering he still rates out 29th SG: TOT L36 and is coming off of a mediocre T59 finish at the CJ Cup. If there is any value to buy relatively low on Matsuyama, I’ll be there when odds open on Monday.

What To Look Out For at the 2022 ZOZO Championship

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The 2021 ZOZO Championship at Sherwood Country Club in Los Angeles was an amazing event with an exciting finish where Patrick Cantlay narrowly beat out Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas. Unfortunately we are much less likely to see the same star power down the stretch at this year’s ZOZO Championship with the strength of field plummeting. Even still, I’m excited to watch some more primetime/overnight golf in Japan at the site of Tiger Woods‘ last victory. It’s a pretty weak field, so I’ll likely take a shot at the top of the board with Hideki Matsuyama and sprinkle in some longer shots like Branden Grace, Keegan Bradley, and Emiliano Grillo depending where the odds shake out. I have been patiently waiting for Emiliano the Coastal Elite to make his way back to the coastline, and now that he has and is riding the heels of a 61 in the final round at The Summit Club, I think he makes for an interesting value play this week.

With all the course fit profiles in mind this week, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool, broken out by projected pricing/odds tier.

For my model this week, I’m putting a premium on SG: APP and Comp Course History followed by a more balanced mix of Good Drives Gained, GIRs Gained, P3 Scoring, P4 Scoring, P5: 550-600, SG: P, and Scrambling. For the second time this 2022 season, Keegan Bradley has popped up as #1, which caught me by surprise considering the weight I put on Putting. Despite Keegan ranking 57th SG: P, he is Top 5 in SG: APP, Good Drives Gained, GIRs Gained, Par 3 Scoring, and Comp Course History. After Keegan, my model’s Top 10 is rounded out by Will Zalatoris, Collin Morikawa, Paul Casey, Xander Schauffele, Alex Noren, Pat Perez, Jhonattan Vegas, Henrik Norlander, and CT Pan.