Golf in Japan has more or less become the norm here this calendar year. Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters in April. In August, the Olympics went to Japan, where Xander Schauffele took the gold medal. Now the PGA Tour heads back for the first time in two years for the Zozo Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, the site where Tiger Woods picked up his 82nd career win in 2019.
Let's take a closer look at this week's contest with odds provided via Caesars Sportsbook.
Event: Zozo Championship | Dates: Oct. 21-24
Location: Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club -- Chiba Prefecture, Japan
Par: 70 | Purse: $9.95 million
Three things to know
1. Big(gest) money: This tournament is the biggest money event of the fall, even though it will not have the best field. Its nearly $10 million purse is only $1.5 million shy of some of the major championship purses earlier this year, which is pretty wild when you consider the fields, stakes and time of the year. Though it's still a very young event, it could not have gotten off to a better start. Tiger won for the 82nd time in his PGA Tour career in the first iteration of this event, and Patrick Cantlay took last year's version over Jon Rahm to kick-start a four-win year in which he also took home the FedEx Cup.
2. X gonna give it to you? Xander Schauffele intrigues me this week. Obviously, the Olympics storyline is prominent, but last week's CJ Cup at Summit was a reminder that Rickie Fowler, who was in the final group on Sunday, has won more recently on the PGA Tour than Schauffele. That's a bit misleading, of course, because Schauffele had the lowest score at the 2020 Tour Championship (where Dustin Johnson won), and obviously he captured gold at the Olympics as well. Still, neither of those count as a PGA Tour victory. Since his last win at the 2019 Tournament of Champions, Schauffele is fifth in the world in strokes gained at 1.91 per round. The other 12 players in that top 13 have a victory since the Monday after Schauffele won at Kapalua, and most of them have won at least three times. It's reductive to say that Schauffele is either a bad closer or extremely due, but not overly so. Big year forthcoming for him.
3. Catch 54: Since the 2021 PGA Championship where Phil Mickelson held on to a 54-hole lead, the only golfer to do so is Patrick Cantlay, who did it twice. There's an asterisk there because one of those was the Tour Championship, where Cantlay technically did not have the lowest score. The point is, however, that no 54-hole lead has been safe of late on the PGA Tour. Even if you include Cantlay's Tour Championship victory, that's still 19 of the last 21 Tour events that have ended with a 72-hole winner that did not lead or co-lead after 54.
Grading the field
It's good but not great, especially compared to last week when most of the best players in the world teed it up in Las Vegas at the CJ Cup at Summit. Collin Morikawa and Schauffele are the headliners here, and also the only two top-10 players in the world who will be teeing it up. Seven other golfers in the top 50 join them, though, including Hideki Matsuyama, Will Zalatoris and Tommy Fleetwood. A middling field for such a high-money event is an anomaly on the PGA Tour, and is likely due to being held halfway around the world the week after an event almost everyone played at the end of a pretty long two-year run for golf. Grade: B-
2021 Zozo Championship picks
|Winner (22-1): Niemann is hitting it well and putted horribly last week. I like that because I know Niemann is not a bad putter, and I expect some return to the median for him there this week. He finished T33 here in 2019 and generally plays well at this time of the year. When I look at potential breakout candidates -- that is, golfers who have been hitting it well and getting unlucky with the putter -- Niemann is probably the most compelling of that group.|
|Top 10 (-125): I saw all I needed to see last week at the CJ Cup at Summit with Morikawa. Sure, one of his better putting weeks gave him a shot to win the tournament, but he returned to his flushing self from tee to green. He finished fourth in approach shots and eighth overall from tee to green in the best field of the fall. After a shaky end to his FedEx Cup Playoffs, that was encouraging and is worthy of a top-10 play this week.|
|Sleeper (40-1): Pan has been flushing it of late, and leads everyone in this field in strokes gained from tee to green over his last 20 rounds. I do have some concern over the fact that this course rewards length, but given that most of the high-profile bombers in the world are sitting this one out, I don't have as much concern as I normally would. More importantly, Pan has been top 10 in this field with his iron play over his last 20 rounds and has two straight top-15 finishes to start the season to show for it.|
Who will win the Zozo Championship, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to see the projected leaderboard and best bets, all from the model that's nailed seven golf majors and is up almost $10,000 since the restart.