Buckle up, sit back and relax … it’s a little trip to this week’s PGA Tour stop.
After spending two weeks in Las Vegas, the tour heads west … far west … to Chiba, Japan, for the 2021 ZOZO Championship. The tournament will be played at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, approximately 8,500 miles away from the bright lights of Vegas.
A field of 78 elite players will open it. Patrick Cantlay is the defending champion when the tournament was held in California last year. That’s no surprise as he won an impressive four times in the 2020-2021 wraparound season, including the last two events in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
But he’s not in the field this year.
While travel restrictions are likely to deter some of the big names from traveling (after all, the wallet is close to $ 10 million and this is the only trip to Japan this season.)
While the big names that will be on the scene definitely need to be reviewed, we’ll go down the list and maybe, just maybe, see a player claim his first win on the PGA Tour.
But it won’t be easy. These guys travel for a living. You come to a place, play a practice round, and then serve in the event.
This one is a little different in that it’s a long, long trip to China (twice as far as Hawaii for the tournament of champions every January) so it can be a challenge to get used to.
How big a challenge? Well, if a player served at noon last week in Vegas, that would be equivalent to serving at 4 a.m. in China. Sure, they will adapt … but which players can do it the fastest?
Odds of winning the 2021 ZOZO Championship from BetMGM
|Zozo Championship odds||BetMGM|
Don’t neglect talent in the field
There’s still a pretty elitist field to open up. Xander Schauffele, who won a gold medal in the Olympics in China, is here along with other top players like Collin Morikawa, Hiedki Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Cameron Champ, Paul Casey, Shane Lowry and more. In total there are 11 players in the top 50 in the world.
This is the third year of the event and the last two winners are impressive … but not in the field: Tiger Woods in 2019 (the last time he won on the tour) and Cantlay last year.
So if it’s an open week then where do we look for that little nugget that could help us pick a winner?
We’re going to search the entry list far down – at least when it comes to searching the entry list alphabetically.
We stop at the ‘Z’s
Is it time for Zalatoris?
We look forward to Will Zalatoris, last season’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, to take his first win on the Tour. At +1800 it’s a bit down on the list and we love that.
It was close … so close that he can taste it. Last season he finished eight top 10 finishes, including a second in the Masters. This season he’s two-to-two in cuts and finished in the top 25 in both events.
While he is still finding his way on the tour, confidence in his swing and overall game grows from week to week. There’s no cut this week so there’s no reason he won’t be out hunting on Sunday.
Whether he will bring in the clutch strokes that he needs for victory on Saturday and Sunday is another question.
We hope he’s ready to hit all the cylinders this week … especially on the weekend.
Collin Morikawa must be in discussion
One of the favorites at +550, Collin Morikawa came off the blocks with a bang in the 2021-2022 wraparound season, finishing second on his home course in Las Vegas last week at the CJ Cup @ Summit.
In the 2021 season, he had 11 top 25 finishes in 19 events where he made the cut, including two wins, so he adapts well to Tour life.
We know … we picked him up as one of our elections for last week and it didn’t quite work out because he came up short.
But when a golfer is hot, you always support him.
He finished last week’s CJ Cup tournament with a 62nd finals, missing Rory McIlroy’s overall victory. A three-hole course on Friday where he did bogey, double bogey, bogey could have shaken him, but he rallied over the weekend to try himself.
We’re not jumping off the Morikawa train anytime soon.
Look at the board for a long shot
If you’re looking for better odds, do a bit of the list (OK, pretty much) and check out Ryan Palmer at +6600. He was T-4 at that event in California last year and T-10 at the 2019 opening event when it was held in Japan.
Palmer missed the cut at the Shriners event, his first outing in the wraparound season, but he’s making his third start in the event with those two solid placements so he’s very comfortable.
It’s a lot to travel here too, but if he can adjust to the time difference quickly enough and get out of the gates hot, this could be his time to get back into the winners’ circle. Most recently, he won the Zurich Classic in 2019, a team event in which he worked with Jon Rahm. His last individual title came in 2010, the Sony Open in Hawaii.