Hello, golf fans!
📯 Now before we go any further – DON’T MISS THE DEADLINE! We’re off to Japan for this week’s golf action, so lineup lock will be around 2am CET Thursday! 📯
On to the golf! With the swing season underway, the tour heads to Japan for the Zozo Championship. Here at Fanteam, we have regular fantasy contests for you this week, but there’s a twist. The Zozo is a no-cut event, meaning you’re guaranteed all six players competing over 72 holes. So no cut sweat Friday this week!
ZOZO is a Japanese clothing brand before you ask. They’ve sponsored the event since its inception in 2019 as a co-sanctioned tournament between the PGA and Japanese Golf Tours. The co-sanction status is now more than a little murky due to the LIV Golf situation (google it!), with this tournament no longer showing on the Japan Golf Tour’s schedule. Those who’ve played LIV events are not allowed to play, which robs us of top Japanese stars Tanihara, Kinoshita, Kozuma, and Inamori.
As previously mentioned, this is a no-cut event, meaning every player will get to compete over all four rounds. Previous winners include Mr. Woods (2019), last week’s runner-up Patrick Cantlay, and Japan’s hero Hideki Matsuyama.
This is ZOZO’s third visit to Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club. We’ll go with Narashino from now on. Woods and Hideki won in the previous two iterations, with Cantlay winning the Covid-hit 2020 edition in Sherwood, USA. Narashino itself lies to the North-East of Tokyo and is around 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Opened in 1965, Narashino has hosted many events on the Japanese tour with some star-studded victors. ‘Jumbo’ Ozaki, Ballesteros, Player, Woods, and Matsuyama, to name a few.
All 18 holes have two greens, traditional in Japan, although only the fifth hole is expected to use both during tournament play. It’s a combo of two courses we’re playing this week, with nine holes from each of the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ courses on the property.
We’ll be playing a par 70 at just over 7,000 yards. Three beefy par 5s, five mostly short par 3s, and a mix of easier short par 4s and a handful of longer, tougher ones. We’ll see a gentle tree-lined course with plenty of bunkers, with water in play on five holes. This week, the deciding factor could be keeping your ball out of the trees.
Oh, and it’s scheduled to be windy AF. So hang on to your hats!
Taking a peek at the top tens from 2019 and 2021, we can see some trends emerging:
2019: Woods, Matsuyama, McIlroy, Im, Woodland, Horschel, Conners, An, Howell, Lee, Schauffele
2021: Matsuyama, Steele, Tringale, Hughes, Wallace, Munoz, Griffin, Bradley, Kanaya, List, Ryder, Fleetwood, Morikawa, Grace
The starkest thing is just how much stronger the top ten was in 2019. This could be owing to Covid still lurking in 2021, Tiger playing in 2019, or just the novelty of a tournament in a ‘new country’ at the 2019 version.
More importantly, we see a common pattern; elite ball strikers. Some of the names are obvious in that department, but even some of the lesser lights we see here are renowned in that part of their game – Woodland, Conners, Steele, Bradley, List.
Alongside this (if we ignore Mac’ magic beans’ Hughes), many team no-putt candidates are here. Matsuyama, Woodland, Conners, An, Steele, Bradley, List. These are known as particularly shaky putters, so maybe putting prowess is neutralized here.
It’s STRONG. Not 2019 strong, but this field is loaded for a swing season event. Hideki, Xander, Im, Hovland, Morikawa, Tom ‘on track to be Tiger 2.0’ Kim, Cameron Young, and Tyrrell Hatton to name but a few. There are only 78 players in the field, and there’s no cut, as mentioned above.
We see plenty of swing season regulars towards the bottom end, along with a handful of Japanese Tour players and sponsor exemptions you may want to avoid. Or at least get your google translate on and start researching Japanese Tour stats before picking them!
Angles into winning picks
DYOR, as the kids say. So rather than give out specific picks, I’m going to highlight some trends that may lead you to the correct names for that winning line-up. I’ve highlighted the guys who pop up more than once.
Team International – At the recent Presidents Cup the International Team put up a surprisingly strong fight before losing out to the US stars. They’ve taken that momentum forward and had a ludicrously strong showing between them at the Shriners last week. Options to keep that going this week:
Matsuyama, Im, K.H. Lee, Tom Kim, Mito Pereira, Bezuidenhout, Munoz, Cam Davis, Si Woo Kim.
Ball strikers supreme – Here are the top ten ball strikers in the field throughout 2022 PGA Tour appearances:
Conners (2), List, Pereira (2), Young, Im (2), Hovland, Steele, Schauffele, Morikawa, Wise
Team no putt – if we think putting is negated here, let’s consider the ten worst PGA Tour putters over 2022:
List (2), Steele, Laird, Knox, Si Woo Kim (2), Buckley, Reavie, Hodges, Hahn, Smalley.
Course form – The top ten most strokes gained at Horoshino CC:
Matsuyama (2), Bradley (2), Steele (2), Im (3), Morikawa (2), Fleetwood, Conners (3), Schauffele (2), Wallace, Munoz (2).
Scorers – you’re going to need birdies, lots of them. With everyone getting all four rounds, you don’t need cut makers; you need those who will rack up serious scoring points. Here’s your 2022’ birdie or better’ top ten
Young (2), Hovland (2), Riley, Schauffele (3), McNealy, Matsuyama (3), Hatton, Morikawa (3), Im (4), Wise (2).
So, this week we’re going to need a ball striker who racks up birdies likes the course, and played on the international team at the Presidents Cup. We don’t care if he can putt or not, which is a good job because this guy can be seriously hot and cold on the greens!
Step forward Sungjae Im – your 2022 ZOZO winner! Maybe….