Tiger Woods joins the fray this week as the PGA Tour moves west from Las Vegas to California and the Zozo Championship, where Woods is the defending champion. There are a lot of converging Tiger trends this week, too, as he holds five titles (all from the Hero World Challenge) at this golf course. This will be the last preparation most of the players in this field (including Tiger) get before playing the Masters in just three weeks, and our last chance to see them before they tee off in Round 1 at Augusta National.
Let's take a closer look at this week's contest, with odds and prop bets provided via William Hill Sportsbook.
What: Zozo Championship
When: Oct. 22-25
Where: Sherwood Country Club -- Lake Sherwood, California
Three things to know
1. Tiger ... again? I wrote about this on Monday, but it's odd that Woods -- who has been fairly mediocre of late -- is the defending champion here. It's even odder that he needed a sponsor exemption to get in the field as he did not finish in the top 60 of the FedEx Cup standings in the 2019-20 season (despite winning this golf tournament). Woods is not likely to win, but he was less likely last year before putting on an absolute clinic and defeating Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy, Sungjae Im and Gary Woodland. Stranger things -- much stranger things -- have happened than Woods winning at a place where he's a past champion on a course he's owned throughout his career.
2. Rory McIlroy's iron play: One of the biggest storylines for the 2020 Masters will of course be whether Rory McIlroy can complete the career grand slam. If he hits his irons the way he's currently hitting them, the answer will be no. With this being his last tune-up before Augusta, that will be one of the specific things I'm watching most closely as the tournament unfolds. In his last 13 rounds, Rory has lost strokes to the field with his iron play in seven (!) of them.
3. Finau returns: Another big name for Augusta National will be Tony Finau. He's missed the last two weeks because of a positive COVID-19 test, but has been playing some of the best golf of his career over the past several months and has improved his approach game to a level where he's flirting with the top 10 in the world. This is a place where he should thrive, but I'm interested to see how fit is he is and how much he's affected by having the past few weeks off because of his positive test.
Grading the field
It does not include Bryson DeChambeau (Masters preparation), Dustin Johnson (positive COVID-19 test) or Brooks Koepka, but Tiger Woods enters the scene this week, likely for the second-to-last time this calendar year. Also, 21 of the top-25 players in the world are teeing it up this week, which makes for an awesome event no matter the venue or the stakes. Grade: A
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1. Joaquin Niemann top global player (6-1): He's one of the eight hottest players in this field and has gained strokes in all but one round of his last three tournaments (U.S. Open, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and CJ Cup). His competition in this category includes Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott and Jason Day. In other words, not a lot of guys I trust more than Niemann right now.
2. Jason Kokrak top 10 (3-1): Why not? Last week's CJ Cup winner has been really good even outside of that over the past few months. He has four top-20 finishes in his last five events, and is currently performing at a clip equivalent to a top-25 player in the world. Don't let the win last week move you away from him.
Zozo Championship picks
|Winner (11-1): He's the best player in the world over the last three months, and nearly took down the CJ Cup last week. I will ride him for as many small-field, no-cut events in a row as the PGA Tour wants to play (and then consider picking him for the Masters in November).|
|Top 10 (-105): The number is horrendous, but Rahm is the only player in the world who is averaging +0.4 strokes per round in every strokes-gained category over the last three months. He has five top 25s and three top 10s in his last five starts.|
|Sleeper (100-1): Hughes did not play great last week at the CJ Cup, but before that, he had just one negative strokes-gained round dating back to the first round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Finished in the top 10 in three of his last five starts.|