ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP: While the grinders and also-rans are lingering for an extra few days in Vegas after last week’s Shriners, a select field of 53 PGA Tour players and 15 Japan Tour stars will tee it up in the Land of the Rising Sun this week with $8.5 million on the line. The ZOZO Championship might be only a blip on the sporting radar in this part of the world, but in Japan it’s a very big deal indeed, as the swelling galleries this week will attest.

The course, Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, is an absolute gem, a par-70 that measures a mere 7,079 yards but presents a stiff challenge with its narrow, tree-lined fairways and small, firm, undulating greens. Precision with the irons is of the utmost importance at Narashino due to the severe nature of the greens, and such precision is nearly impossible from the sticky rough that lines every hole, so players will need to find fairways in order to give themselves birdie opportunities. The players tore the place apart back in 2019, when some guy named Tiger posted 19-under to walk away with the trophy, but conditions were firmer the past two years and the course bared its teeth, with Japanese hero Hideki Matsuyama posting 15-under and blowing away the field by 5 shots in 2021 and Keegan Bradley getting the job done with an identical 15-under 265 last year. Firm and fast conditions are expected this week, so I’d be surprised if this one turns into a birdie fest.

Bradley is back to defend and is currently trading at a shortish 26.0 on the BETDAQ exchange… he was playing quite well towards the end of last season, culminating in a T9 at the Tour Championship, but with his near 8 weeks of inactivity since then he feels like one to avoid at that price. There are some marquee names at the top of the market, led by Xander Schauffele (8.9) and Collin Morikawa (16.0), and there are some juicy mid-market options as well for this limited field event. Here’s what I’m thinking:

WIN MARKET

Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Sung Jae Im (16.5)- While several of the players near the top of the market are coming off weeks of inactivity or light activity and may have to shake off a bit of competitive rust, Im’s game is razor sharp right now, as evidenced by his gold medal finish with partner Si Woo Kim at the Asian Games in China two weeks ago, a performance which earned both of them an exemption from having to serve in the South Korean military (talk about pressure!). Im finished runner-up in the individual portion of the event, showing that he’s still in fine form after finishing the 2023 PGA Tour season with four straight top-25 finishes and two top-10s. He’s played this tournament three times, twice at Narashino, and he lit it up in 2019 (the first year Narashino was used), shooting 13-under for the week and finishing 3rd. He’s a blue-chip option this week and is worth a bet at the current price.

Tom Hoge (70.0)- This tournament is a tremendous opportunity for guys like Hoge– huge purse, lots of FedEx Cup points on the line, and a limited field that only includes 1 player in the top-10 of the latest World Golf Rankings. He’s played here twice before and seems to have taken a liking to Narashino, as he followed his T17 in 2021 with a T9 last year, posting rounds of 66-65 on Friday and Saturday and going on to finish 10-under for the week. He also happens to be in good form at the moment, finding the top-15 in 2 of his last 3 worldwide starts, so there are definite reasons for optimism this week. Good current form plus good course history and a fat price like 70.0 equals a bet in my book, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do with Hoge.

Matt Wallace (108.0)- Wallace is on a nice run at the moment, posting three top-25 finishes in his last six worldwide starts, including a runner-up at the Czech Masters and a T6 at the Dunhill Links two weeks ago. He then flew to Vegas and finished T28 in the Shriners last week, and now it’s off to Japan– Wallace is nearly circumnavigating the globe in a 3-week span! Maybe that’s why he’s priced at better than 100/1, because otherwise I can’t figure it out– not only is he in good form at the moment, as mentioned, but he has a nice history at Narashino that includes a 4th-place finish in 2021, when he opened with a 65 and shot par or better all four rounds despite difficult conditions. He’s a bargain this week at a triple-digit price.


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