The Zozo Championship was introduced to the PGA Tour in 2019 as part of the Asian swing. Alongside the CJ Cup and the WGC HSBC Champions, this event is a chance for golf fans in the Far East to watch the best players on the PGA Tour in action. It’s also a very big event for the cream of Japanese golf as the tournament is co-sanctioned by the Japan Golf Tour.
The first edition of the Zozo Championship took place at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club. The plan is for that to be the long term host of a tournament that has been well-backed in terms of prize money, fans and the quality of the field.
Betting Tips for 21st to 24th October 2021
As popular as Rory McIlroy’s win in the CJ Cup was last week, the event organisers will feel a little disappointed that the former world number one did not get the win in South Korea. The original host of the CJ Cup was unable to fulfil its role this year due to travel restrictions but it’s a different story this week as the Zozo Championship returns to its home in Japan.
The future of the PGA Tour is for it to be increasingly international so the powers that be will be very happy with the number of big names who have made the trip to Narashino Country Club. The bill is topped by Collin Morikawa who is of Japanese descent, Xander Schauffele who won gold at the Tokyo Olympics just a few months ago, and by one of the biggest names in Japanese sport: Hideki Matsuyama.
Those three will take much of the attention and if they get hot, any of them could win. The player to support from the top part of the market, however, is Joaquin Niemann. Narashino is a real throwback course, to the extent that the holes have two greens as the course used to open half during the spring and summer and the other half during autumn and winter. Visually, it looks like a course at which solid approach play and ball striking will be rewarded. That is true but the stats (admittedly from just one previous renewal) show that driving distance is of utmost importance. Niemann gets every bit of speed possible from his six-foot frame and is an excellent ball striker. If his play from tee to green is as good as it was for much of the CJ Cup, he could score at odds of 22/1 to win his second PGA Tour title.
Jhonattan Vegas is another player who fits the profile for a possible winner at Narashino. The Venezuelan didn’t make it over to Japan for the inaugural tournament but he will surely like what he sees during his practice rounds this week. Vegas averages 320 yards off the tee. That driving power will be a huge weapon this week. Similarly, he ranks 17th on the PGA Tour for strokes gained from tee to green and that relentless quality gives him a very good chance of contending at a nice price of 33/1.
Garrick Higo’s rise to prominence over the last year has been nothing short of phenomenal. Relatively unheralded before his win at the Open de Portugal, Higgo won twice in three weeks on the European Tour before winning the Palmetto Championship on only his second PGA Tour start. He is clearly a quick learner and won’t take long to work out what is required at Narashino. Although his recent form isn’t much to shout about, he isn’t far off the levels he reached when winning so Higgo could be a sleeper at 80/1.
|2021||Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club||Hideki Matsuyama|
|2020||Sherwood Country Club||Patrick Cantlay|
|2019||Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club||Tiger Woods|
2021: Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama is an experienced enough golfer to know that you can never count your chickens before they have hatched in this game. Asked when he knew that he had won the 2021 Zozo Championship, Matsuyama replied that it was until “my second shot at 18” referring to the wonderful three-wood he hit to 12 feet on the final hole of his tournament. The resultant eagle wasn’t so much “the clincher” as Matsuyama put it, more a piece of brilliance to see out a win on home soil with a final flourish.
That closing eagle coupled with a closing bogey from Cameron Tringale saw Matsuyama win the Zozo Championship by a very comfortable, in the end, five shots. The win makes it seven on the PGA Tour for Matsuyama and two for the year after his success at the Masters back in April. It is far from his first win in his native Japan but this was very special as it’s a first PGA Tour win on home soil.
Matsuyama’s win was another high point in the short history of the Zozo Championship. Of the two tournaments which have been held in Japan the first was won by Tiger Woods and the second by one of the country’s biggest sporting stars. Both men had to beat a world class field to win and golf fans look forward to more excellent renewals in the years to come.
2020: Patrick Cantlay
The 2020 Asian swing of events on the PGA Tour had to be cancelled due to ongoing public health and travel restrictions. Fortunately, the Zozo Championship could be rescued by moving it temporarily to Sherwood Country Club in California. The new event did not work out for defending champion Tiger Woods who finished ahead of just a handful of players but it did provide a thrilling finish in which Patrick Cantlay surged up the leaderboard to win.
Cantlay came into the week feeling better about his game than he had for a while. His confidence steadily built over the first three days to the point where he felt he had a genuine chance of winning despite starting his final round four shots off the lead held by Justin Thomas. With his ball striking at such a level that he felt he could take on any shot, Cantlay just needed to follow up on the greens. He did exactly that during a round of 65 which was enough to sneak the win by one shot from Thomas and Jon Rahm.
This win was special for Cantlay as it was the culmination of a lot of work and came just an hour’s drive away from where he was born. He summed up his third PGA Tour win by saying, “I put in a lot of work and try to do the right things all the time, so when it all does come together, it’s really rewarding because it’s all that hard work paying off.”
2019: Tiger Woods
If the organisers of the Zozo Championship could have wished for two players to fill the top two positions of the inaugural tournament it would be Tiger Woods and Hideki Matsuyama. That is exactly what they got at Narashino Country Club. The only thing that was lacking was a bit more jeopardy in the final round but nobody in attendance on the Monday finish was disappointed to see Woods tie Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins.
Reaching the total of 82 wins was just the latest milestone in a career full of them for Woods. He has been there and done it repeatedly, amassing vast experience along the way. That experience helped him quickly get to grips with a new course and a new tournament, setting the first-round lead. It also helped him to maintain the pace and deal with rising levels of expectation and he kept himself out in front. Finally, it allowed him to remain calm and focused on the job at hand when heavy rain caused the abandonment of the second round and forced the 2019 Zozo Championship to a Monday finish.
He was not perfect throughout even the final round but Woods kept the mistakes to a minimum. That was crucial to ensure he did not open the door to Matsuyama even if the rest of the chasing pack was too far behind to threaten. Wearing his tradition red for a final round, Woods finished with a flourish courtesy of a birdie on the final hole en route to yet another piece of history as he became the first winner of this exciting new event.