Zozo Championship Betting Tips: Best bets from Japan
What a remarkable couple of months it’s been for 20-year-old Tom “Joohyung” Kim. One of Asian golf’s worst kept secrets, the talented Korean announced himself on the world stage with an incredible 5-stroke victory at the Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour, a victory he attained after starting the week with a quadruple-bogey on his first hole.
This helped stamp his place in the International Team at the Presidents Cup, an event in which he stole the show despite the ultimate success of the US Team, thanks to not just his golfing ability but his engaging attitude.
Last week at the Shriners Open, on his first start since the Presidents Cup and just his 3rd start since his win at the Wyndham, Kim picked up PGA Tour title #2, a feat achieved without making a single bogey throughout the entire week and firing a fantastic -24 to win by three. In doing so becoming the first player under 21 to win twice on tour since Tiger in 1996.
Now at a career high #15 in the world, it will be exciting to see how his career progresses from here.
This week we’re off to the Far East as the PGA Tour and Japan Golf Tour come together for the ZOZO Championship; an event which sees a limited 78-man field and no cut, with 15 players from the JGTO joining their PGA Tour counterparts.
Established in 2019, the ZOZO Championship is still relatively new to the PGA Tour schedule and is played at Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan; however it did take a brief hiatus from the course in 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic, with Sherwood Country Club in California stepping in to host the event.
Tiger Woods won the inaugural title in 2019, holding off home favourite Hideki Matsuyama by 3-strokes with a score of -19; a win which still dates as his most recent. Patrick Cantlay won the detoured event at Sherwood CC in 2020 but the home fans were treated to a memorable moment last year on the event’s return to Japan, as Hideki Matsuyama made up for his runner-up finish in 2019 with an emphatic 5-stroke victory; a score of -15 firing him to the trophy.
Narashino Country Club is a par 70 measuring 7079 yards – slightly longer than the 2019 & 2021 renewals – and is unusual for the fact there are 5 par 3s at the venue, with 10 par 4s and 3 par 5s.
Set through winding, tree-lined corridors, Narashino CC is tight off the tee, with doglegging fairways and like many courses in Japan, possesses two sets of greens per hole, though it is the small bentgrass ones that will be in-play this year.
Despite the rough being largely playable and greens which are receptive at this time of year it still provides a challenging ball-striking test, with fairways ranking in the top 10 most difficult to find on tour and it also ranking in the top 15 most penal for missing fairways. Water in-play on five holes and greens protected by a huge amount of bunkers adding further challenges.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this course is short either; that 7079-yard distance can be increased significantly due to the 5 par 3s, 4 of them below 200 yards, with the 141-yard 13th and 167-yard 7th particularly short.
The par 4s offer a good balance, with half of them under 425 yards and scorable, particularly if you can cut the corners to some of these fairways; but are countered by the other half all being over 485 yards, with the 505 yard 4th hole the longest. Whilst the par 5s are no gimmes; all over 560 yards, including the 606 yard 14th.
This is a great course, it offers a perfect balance between scorable holes and those where making par will be your main objective. With quality ball-striking and intelligent placement of your ball off-the-tee of premium importance throughout.
We have no strokes gained data from previous editions here, though we don’t need to look too hard to find what you require to perform around here.
Both leaderboards here have been littered with quality ball-strikers, particularly those who excel off the tee; from Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy, Sungjae Im and Gary Woodland in 2019; to Matsuyama again, Brendan Steele, Matt Wallace and Sebastian Munoz last year; all, at their best strong drivers of the ball and finishing in the top 5 here.
Playing into small, receptive greens, approach play will be key. If we had SG stats I’d have little doubt both winners would’ve ranked high in both areas, with the likes of Cameron Tringale, along with Steele, Munoz and Woodland emphasising this further. Whilst I particularly like those who excel in approaches from 175-200 yards, with many shots falling into this range.
Strong scrambling will too be important this week with some potentially tricky conditions on the way and finally I’m going to give the par 3 scoring stat a rare outing; both winners here have ranked 1st in par 3 scoring – Tiger by 4 strokes in 2019 – no surprise given the unusually high amount of them here.
Key Stats: SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Approach, Proximity 175-200 yards, Scrambling, Par 3 Scoring
Charles Schwab Challenge @ Colonial Country Club
Colonial Country Club rates as the clear best correlating course for me. A winding, tree-lined course where doglegs are plentiful and possessing bentgrass greens. It ranks almost identical to Narashino in every statistic, from the average percentage of fairways found to the challenge it provides in scrambling.
Form-ties haven’t had enough time to develop strongly yet though there are some. Sebastian Munoz, Mackenzie Hughes, Gary Woodland and Corey Conners all possessing top 10s there with top 6s here.
Sanderson Farms Championship @ Country Club of Jackson
Despite being less penal that this week’s host course, the CCoJ ranks one spot behind in percentage of fairways found and is a course where strong drivers have thrived.
Mackenzie Hughes and Sebastian Munoz have both won there. Sungjae Im and Corey Conners have runner-up finishes, whilst Keegan Bradley – 7th and 13th on two visits to Narashino – has two top 5s in Jackson.
Valspar Championship @ Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead Course)
The Copperhead Course is a similarly tough driving course, with fairways tricky to find and penal should you miss. Again, a place where strong drivers have thrived.
Keegan Bradley has finished 2nd there, with Cameron Tringale twice finishing 3rd and Sungjae Im possessing a 4th place finish in the Valspar.
Texas Open @ TPC San Antonio
Another strong ball-striking test, TPC San Antonio is a place where good drivers have often thrived and was the course that had the most amount of form-ties with this week’s venue.
Corey Conners and Brendan Steele are past champions, Matt Wallace has finished 3rd and Cameron Tringale 5th; with Gary Woodland and Sebastian Munoz each possessing a top 10.
There’s a strong breeze predicted throughout the week – between 10-12mph – with the opening two rounds looking the most difficult, as gusts could reach up to 20mph. In addition to some forecast rain on Thursday and Sunday, though it shouldn’t impact on the course too much.
Weather in this part of the world can often be chaotic so may well change by Thursday.
Hideki Matsuyama returns to defend his title, joined by last week’s Shriners winner, Tom Kim. World #6, Xander Schauffele is the highest ranked player in the field, with #9, Collin Morikawa making up the duo of players from inside the top 10.
There’s a quartet of Englishmen teeing it up; Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Wallace and Aaron Rai; with a talented home contingent for the Japanese crowd, including two former #1 amateurs: Takumi Kanaya and Keita Nakajima, as well as Kazuki Higa, who currently sits atop the Japan Golf Tour Money List this season.
Zozo Championship Tips
- Si Woo Kim 30/1 – 1/5 7 places (William Hill) – 1.75 pts ew
- Tom Hoge 40/1 – 1/5 6 places (Boylesports) – 1.25 pts ew
- Sepp Straka 45/1 – 1/5 7 places (William Hill) – 1.25 pts ew
- Davis Riley 50/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Aaron Rai 80/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Yuto Katsuragawa 250/1 – 1/5 7 places (Williamhill) – 0.5 pts ew
Market Leaders: Xander Schauffele 9/1, Sungjae Im 14/1, Collin Morikawa 14/1, Hideki Matsuyama 14/1, Tom Kim 16/1, Cameron Young 18/1
There’s nothing that jumps out at me from the top of the betting; Morikawa the most tempting at 14s but he hasn’t played on tour for around six weeks, so is entitled to be a little rusty here and not worth risking at the price.
Instead I start down at the 30/1 mark with a player who comes into this after his best ball-striking performance of the year at last week’s Shriners and can follow on from countryman, Tom Kim’s success last week, three-time PGA Tour winner Si Woo Kim.
Si Woo Kim 30/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1.75 pts ew
That performance resulted in an 8th place finish for Si Woo last week, his best finish on the PGA Tour in 2022. It was engineered by gaining over 1.7 strokes a round with his ball-striking, his best week in this regard since last year’s Sanderson Farms Championship; whilst the putter also behaved more than it was doing at the end of last season, as he ranked 20th in the field.
Though it was his first top 10 of the year on the PGA Tour, Kim has played solid throughout 2022, finishing 18th or better on seven occasions. This strong ball-striking has been on show for the most part, particularly the driver, ranking 44th on tour last season; whilst his irons are a little more inconsistent, he’s capable of excellent runs of form in this regard, something he showed at the back end of last season and he’s strong in the 175-200 yard range, ranking 36th on tour in 2021/22.
In addition he has always possessed a quality scrambling game, 47th on tour last season proof of this, whilst he is one of the better par 3 players on tour, ranking 35th the previous season. An all-round excellent profile for this test.
He’s put this to use on both visits here, finishing a solid 37th on debut in 2019 and improved on this by finishing 18th last year, firing 5 rounds in the 60s out of 8 at the course. He compliments this with some strong correlating form, with a 4th in Texas and 8th in the Sanderson Farms, even wins at THE PLAYERS and Wyndham Championship show his suitability to a traditional test.
Kim knows how to win and has positive experience of the course; arriving here after a best ball-striking performance of the year last week, I expect him to improve on the previous year’s finish once again.
Another player coming in here after a good performance last week, where he finished 4th; Tom Hoge is hitting the ball really well at the minute and can rely on a positive spin around here last year, in which he finished 17th, to put up a further good result this week.
Hoge has started the new season much the way he finished the last; recording finishes of 4th and 10th in his final four starts of the 2021/22 season, his 4th place finish last week was preceded by a 12th in the Fortinet Championship in the first event of the season. Meaning he has finishes of 4th, 4th, 10th and 12th in his last six starts.
Each of those results has been engineered by quality ball-striking, with Hoge at his best in approach, ranking 11th on tour last season and is 4th after his two starts this season, showing how he’s maintained that form, ranking 3rd in the field last week. Not only that but he was the best player on tour last season in the 175-200 yard range.
Barring a rough patch with the driver from May-July, the club has complimented his irons well and he’s ever improving with his short-game, ranking 16th in scrambling last season.
Rating as the 4th best par 3 scorer on tour last season rounds off an extremely compelling set of statistics for Hoge in relation to this test, indeed he ranked 3rd in my model this week behind Schauffele and only narrowly behind Im.
This suitability was evidenced last year as he finished 17th on debut, getting the hang of the course over the weekend, with a 66 in round 3 the joint-best round of the day. A good record in Texas, where he’s finished 9th and 12th adds further positivity.
Hoge is one of the form players on tour; with the right areas of his game firing and that encouraging effort here last year, he looks a likely contender this week.
After placing for us two weeks ago I’m going to give Sepp Straka another try here at the same price. He continued to show the superb ball-striking form of recent months in that start and all form considered, looks a bit of value ahead of players not playing half as well as he is.
That runner-up finish was his 2nd in four starts after Straka finished 2nd in the St Jude Championship back in August, following that with a 28th in the BMW Championship and 7th in the Tour Championship, before that 2nd in the Sanderson Farms two weeks ago.
He has barely missed a beat across those starts in any area of his game, with his approach play a particular standout but really showing no weaknesses, he’s gained over 2 strokes a round with the driver, over 3 with the putter and around 1 around-the-greens.
This level of performance will see him go well at any course and I find further encouragement as to his chances here in a ranking of 21st on tour last season in proximity 175-200 yards.
Much like before the Sanderson Farms, he has little form to shout about here, finishing 66th on debut last year, though was in no sort of form; however he did fire his best round of the week in round 4, suggesting he got a hang of it by the end of the week.
That 2nd last time out in Jackson gives me confidence he can leave that form well behind here, a place where the man who bested him there, Mackenzie Hughes, finished 4th on debut and he looks a real danger should he be able to maintain his recent form.
Sweet-swinging Davis Riley is a quality ball-striker and with some excellent correlating form on just a few starts among those mentioned above, I’m taking him to enjoy Narashino CC on his first try.
Riley should take plenty of confidence from his first year on the PGA Tour, where he found some serious form in the middle part of the year.
Following some underwhelming efforts from January-March, he burst into life at the Valspar Championship finishing 2nd to Sam Burns, losing out in a playoff.
A few starts after that he then finished 5th in the Mexico Open, starting a sequence of results which reads: 9th in the Byron Nelson, 13th in the PGA Championship, 4th in the Charles Schwab Challenge and 13th in the Memorial Tournament.
His form tailed off towards the end of the season, though a 13th in the Wyndham Championship provided a bright spot and helped him on his way to making the BMW Championship, the 2nd event in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Riley played the first two events of the new season, missing the cut in the Fortinet Championship and finishing 19th two weeks ago in the Sanderson Farms, with the biggest positive being the rediscovery of form with his irons, as he’s gained strokes on both starts, ranking 17th in the Sanderson Farms.
This strength in approach was the key ingredient to Riley’s run of results in the middle part of the year, though it’s actually with the driver in which he’s most consistent, ranking 41st on the PGA Tour last season. My belief that he can go here well on his first try is strengthened by him ranking top 50 in both par 3 scoring and proximity 175-200 yards. Completing a profile which very much fits this test.
This may not be on show from any previous run here but those two best finishes of the year, when 2nd in the Valspar and 4th at Colonial provide two pieces of correlating form to rival anyone, whilst his top 20 at the Country Club of Jackson last time out does nothing but improve his case.
Riley won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 and I’m expecting him to apply that winning habit to the PGA Tour this season, with this week looking another good chance for him to challenge.
England’s Aaron Rai loves a tricky, tree-lined test and can go well here on debut in a part of the world he has tasted victory before.
Rai is another player starting his 2nd season on the PGA Tour. His first must surely be seen as a success, retaining his tour card pretty comfortably, finishing inside the top 100 on the FedEx Cup Standings.
This thanks to a quality start to the season, where he reeled off three top 20s in a row at the end of last year, though no doubt the biggest result of the season coming when 6th in the Farmers Insurance Open.
It’s easy to think he seriously fell out of form at the end of the season, though missed cuts in the Scottish Open and Open Championship are hardly a major cause for concern; however he did signal a serious return to form when 5th in the Italian Open three starts ago.
He returned stateside at the Sanderson Farms two weeks ago, finishing 61st and stepped up on that markedly last week, as he finished 20th in Vegas thanks to a superb approach performance, ranking 2nd for the week.
This kind of iron play was key to his performances last season, as he ranked 46th on the PGA Tour, combining with a solid driving performance, ranking 69th; an area where he lacks for distance but find plenty of fairways, ranking 16th on tour last season, no bad thing around here.
He hasn’t played here and isn’t blessed with an abundance of starts at correlating courses, though a 29th in Texas on his first try is a solid result, whilst he made the cut at Colonial and in the Sanderson Farms. However we can look to the DP World Tour for much more encouragement, as Rai has twice won, once in tough conditions in the Scottish Open but I’m particularly keen on his win in Hong Kong in 2018, on a traditional tree-lined course, whilst a win in Kenya on the Challenge Tour in 2017 provides further evidence of his suitability to this type of test.
Rai will find fairways for fun around here and if able to replicate what he did in approach last week, he’d look an extremely lively and likely outsider this week in Japan.
Finally I wanted to have one of the JGTO players onside this week and Yuto Katsuragawa stood out most. This former #89 amateur clearly has plenty of potential and has taken little time getting to winning ways since turning pro in 2021, winning first on the Japanese development tour at the end of ’21 and won for the first time on the main tour this year.
That win was well on the cards for Katsuragawa, as he recorded two runner-up finishes in his first three events of 2022 before a victory in his 5th start. There has been little sign of this being a flash in the pan, as he’s recorded a further four top 10s since that victory, including two more 2nd places, the most recent of which came on his latest start two-weeks ago, this following a 3rd place finish the week earlier.
His game looks to be one of little weakness, he ranks 1st on the JGTO in both total driving and GIR; in addition he ranks 9th in par 3 scoring and is a solid scrambler, ranking 26th. The type of strong tee-to-green game that should match up well with this test.
This ball-striking prowess was well on show in his incredibly impressive 47th place finish in The Open this year, his first major appearance; as he rated the 4th best ball-striker in the field, ranking 9th off-the-tee and 11th in approach.
Any repeat of that level of ball-striking could well see this home talent give the Japanese fans a little extra to cheer about this week.