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By Alex Lauzon from the “Course of Life” podcast
From Vegas to Japan we go for the ZOZO!
In what’s often a mysterious and cloudy part of the professional golf calendar, an old friend returns to golf fans and bettors: the Asian Swing. The PGA Tour moves from Las Vegas where Tom Kim grabbed his second win in four PGA Tour starts across a little bit of water to Japan for the ZOZO Championship. What this means for U.S. viewers is late night golf on the other side of the world, always an entertaining spectacle and a time shift for golf fans in the fall. Three of the four playings of this event, including this years will be at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club. Certainly a mouthful, but not an unfamiliar sight for fans who have seen this event in recent years.
This year’s event features a strengthened purse to $11 million and close to $2 million for the winner – enough incentive for the 16-hour flight. In the field this week are Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, and Cameron Young from the winning Presidents Cup team. Viktor Hovland, Tommy Fleetwood, and a slew of Asian stars join Hideki in defending his title in Japan, so it should make for some great pairings.
In this short history of this event, the results have been very on brand for what you would expect from a Japan based event. Tiger outdueled countryman Hideki Matsuyama here in 2019. The tournament shifted to Sherwood in California during the COVID season in 2020, so naturally Calfornian Patrick Cantlay tamed the field. In last year’s event, HIdeki exacted his revenge on 2019, dramatically winning in front of his home crowd in a playoff. It was like his Super Bowl and he’s the prohibitive crowd favorite. Destiny seems bound to produce some sort of storybook finish again in 2022… let’s see if it involves Matsuyama.
FORECASTING THE ZOZO
This event is a one of one for Japan golf fans and it’s treated with respect. Attendance will be through the roof as the Tour heads to where the game grows faster than weeds in your backyard. Demand and interest in golf seeps through this event, but the course itself does not present a major championship type of test by any means. Birdies are abundant at the shorter Narashino layout of just over 7000 yards, and each winner has been at least -15 at the end of the week.
MAKING YOUR PICKS
I’m prefacing my weekly picks based on exactly what I value the most. With every play I make, I’m always taking into account these factors and for the ZOZO in Japan, I’m leaning towards some home favorites and some streaky players towards the top end of the field that can contend anywhere right now.
1. Who’s hot and trending – recent high finishes, top 10 streaks and consistent play are never a bad thing.
2. Horses for courses – players love certain courses and course familiarity and experience are invaluable in a field of the world’s best.
3. What the numbers tell you this week – while I’m far from analytical, there’s always a tournament darling or two scattered across the golf talk stratosphere that stuns on paper.
4. Intangibles – while this allows for theater of the mind, there’s a mysterious optimism surrounding that feels “due” or if the price looks just right for buying.
At the Shriners Open in Vegas, I had 3 picks finish in the top 15, so nice points stackage there, but didn’t sniff a W and a couple of missed cut players to boot. We’ll call it a C+ for the week.
THE SIX PACK OF PICKS
(Wanna start a Pick-X pool with your friends? Learn more here! Or, if you’re looking to start your own PGA One-and-Done pool, check those out here) (Hint: the main difference between the two is how many players you’ll pick each week)
1: Sungjae Im – Has to be played almost every week now, coming off of a Presidents Cup he delivered a top 10 last week in Vegas. Will have a large (but not Hideki sized) contingent.
2: Cameron Young – Excited to see if Young breaks through, arguably the most consistent PGA Tour member in recent months is rested and ready to go.
3: Corey Conners – His recent play isn’t ideal, but Conners matches up well with this course and has multiple top 10’s in this event’s young history.
4: Viktor Hovland – Maybe forgotten about in the fray of great players recently, but no doubt he can go low in a hurry and makes his 2022-2023 season debut.
5: Christiaan Bezuidenhout – Another International team member that still pieced together a decent week in Vegas without putting very well. If he makes a few he’ll be around on the weekend to contend.
6: Takumi Kanaya – Events like these always spawn success from lesser known Asian players getting their shot. Kanaya has a major championship and WGC experience under his belt in 2022.
RYP One and Done Pick: Corey Conners
Where to watch: Golf Channel and ESPN+ all weekend – that’s a Wednesday night start in the U.S. so get your bets in early!
Why to watch: The ZOZO rings in the fall Asian swing on the PGA Tour, where we get to watch golf in random destinations late at night.
What to eat: Sushi – my typical order is one of whatever’s on special, a spicy tuna roll as a control, edamame and extra gyoza.
Purse: $11 million
Winner’s Share: $1.9 million