The inaugural ZOZO Championship takes place this week in Chiba, Japan. This is the second of a three-tournament stretch the PGA Tour is playing in Asia. Justin Thomas won last week’s CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea. The World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions takes place next week in Shanghai, China. Each of the three events features an enlarged prize purse ($9.75 million this week), helping to draw out some of the best golfers from the Official World Golf Ranking. This week’s 78-man field is composed of the top 60 available golfers from last year’s FedExCup standings, 10 of the best from the Japan Golf Tour and eight sponsor exemptions. Below, we make our ZOZO Championship betting picks and search for potential value in the star-studded field.
Tiger Woods and reigning FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy make their 2019-20 PGA Tour season debuts ranked No. 10 and No. 2, respectively, in the OWGR. Both golfers participated in the MGM Resorts The Challenge: Japan Skins on Monday, along with Hideki Matsuyama and winner Jason Day. Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the world, respectively, are skipping the event.
The course: Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club
Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club makes its PGA Tour debut. The course measures 7,041 yards and will play as a par 70 with five par 3s, three par 5s and 10 par 4s. Each hole on the course has two putting surfaces, but only the par 4 fourth will use both over the course of the tournament. Golfers will receive a free drop if their ball lands on the wrong green. All putting surfaces feature bentgrass.
The three par 5s all exceed 550 yards, with the longest coming in at 608. The par 3s range from 141 to 191 yards. The par 4s play from a low of 363 to a long of 500 or 505 yards (No. 4’s dual greens). Water comes into play on the fourth, fifth, sixth and 10th holes. Most other holes are protected by thick tree lines hugging the fairways. More than 70 bunkers litter the course with several strategically placed fairway bunkers altering approach angles.
Key stats to consider for The ZOZO Championship
There is no course history for this week’s event. Tailoring our stat model to the length and layout of the course, the most important stats at which to look are Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Fairways Gained, Strokes Gained: Approach, Sand Saves Gained, Par 4s Gained and Opportunities Gained. My model at Fantasy National is set to the most recent 36 rounds for each golfer in the field played on courses with bentgrass greens.
We will look primarily at PGA Tour regulars, but be sure to check out some of the key stat leaders on the Japan Golf Tour, as well.
The ZOZO Championship betting picks: Sleepers and value bets
Ancer enters the week ranked 41st by the OWGR measure. Despite his world ranking, only 31 golfers in the condensed field have higher odds to win this week. His last professional victory came in the 2018 Emirates Australian Open but he was more recently second at last year’s The Northern Trust and tied for 12th at The Players Championship and 16th at the PGA Championship. The 28-year-old ranks 25th by the stat model, but he’s second in SG: Off-the-Tee and seventh in Fairways Gained. He’s a great value at this number and can also be played at +1800 for a Top 5 finish.
Janewattananond won last year’s SMBC Singapore Open and Kolon Korea Open on the Asian Tour. He’s a four-time winner in Asia with all four victories coming since 2017, and he adds a runner-up finish at the 2018 BNI Indonesian Masters. The 23-year-old from Bangkok, Thailand ranks fourth on the Japan Tour money list. He’s fifth on the tour in Scoring Average, second in Par or Better Percentage, third in Greens in Regulation Percentage, fifth in Driving Accuracy and second in Total Driving. His best finish on the PGA Tour was a T14 at last year’s PGA Championship, showing he can finish well when competing against the world’s best.
Glover leads this week’s stat model, ranking inside the top 10 of the field in SG: Approach (sixth), Par 4s Gained (sixth) and Sand Saves Gained (eighth). The 2009 US Open champ hasn’t won on any tour since his 2011 victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, but he has seven top 10s in the 2019 calendar year, including a T9 at this season’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He was T39 at last week’s event in South Korea. Glover finished 2018 ranked 130th in the world, but he enters this week at 62nd.
The ZOZO Championship betting picks: Our winner
The 22-year-old from Oslo, Norway turned professional last summer after winning low amateur honors at both the 2019 Masters and US Open. He’s ranked 91st in the world but remains in search of career victory No. 1. He tied for 10th at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier to open the 2019-20 PGA Tour season. He tied for 11th at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship the following week and tied for 31st at last week’s CJ Cup. Hovland has the 11th-best odds in the loaded field, tied with fellow Tour rookie Collin Morikawa, and past major winners Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland, Day and Woods. The expectations are high, but it’s only a matter of time until Hovland breaks through this season.