This article is part of our Betting on Golf series.
ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP Betting Preview
After two weeks in Las Vegas, the PGA Tour heads across the globe to Narashino County Club just outside of Tokyo for the lone Asian event of the 2021-22 season.
Co-sanctioned with the Japan Tour, the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP was added to the schedule in 2019 and originally held in Narashino before it was temporarily moved stateside last year. Just like last week, it's a limited field of 78 players and headlined by two top-5 players in the world – Xander Schauffele – the favorite at 11-2 odds – and Collin Morikawa, who checks in at 7-1. 19 golfers from Japan are also in action, with everyone playing the weekend in this no-cut event. Last year, Patrick Cantlay, at 30-1, came from behind in the final round to defeat Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm by one stroke.
Narashino CC plays as a par-70 – there are five par-3s and three par-5s – at approximately 7,000-yards, and unlike the last two weeks, this won't turn into a birdie-fest. Tiger Woods won the event at 19-under-par in 2019, but only nine players in the field shot 10-under or better. Unfortunately, strokes gained data wasn't implemented for the event, but in looking at the players that excelled we can see that the longer drivers fared well – not a big surprise considering there isn't much of a penalty for missing fairways with minimal rough.
I'm looking for golfers that have solid all-around games and/or can scramble, as that will come into play on the smaller green complexes at Narashino.
All odds via DraftKings Sportsbook as of 5:00 PM ET Tuesday.
The following five golfers, on a per-round basis, gained the most strokes from tee to green over their last 20 rounds:
After a disappointing 2019-20 season, Vegas has quietly put together a strong 2021, a year that has included three runner-up finishes. As a result, his world ranking has shot up from outside the top 200 to 81st. His play has been particularly impressive from tee to green, which should play a pivotal role in determining who finds themselves at the top of the leaderboard this week. The key for Vegas is always his putter – the last five tournaments in which he gained strokes on the greens he finished T15, T2, T11, T2 and T9. Another streaky putter in the field is the third betting choice on the board in Matsuyama at 12-1. He finds himself in that spot for a reason, as he's had his share of success in his home country, winning on the Japan Tour eight times while finishing runner-up in this event two years ago and narrowly missing out on a medal in Tokyo this summer. Matsuyama offers an attractive alternative if you're looking to pivot off Schauffele and Morikawa.
Will Zalatoris (16-1)
Zalatoris is due to pick up his first PGA Tour victory, and this should be a great opportunity for him to do just that. He comes in more rested than most of the field having not played last week and only three times in the last nine weeks. His ball striking is up there with some of the best players in the game, and he ranked ninth in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green last season.
Charley Hoffman (35-1)
Conventional wisdom says to fade Hoffman on a win bet due to his lack of top finishes recently, but still, you have to be playing at a high level to have missed only one cut since the middle of February. The four-time Tour winner is bound to break through if he continues to put himself in the hunt.
Maverick McNealy (35-1)
McNealy looks primed to win soon, having recorded a pair of runner-up finishes this year, including last month at the Fortinet Championship, where he came up one short after a costly double bogey late in the final round. He's developed into a strong all-around player and has looked like a top-50 player in the world since this summer.
Top-10 Finish: 8-1
Over two thirds of the field hasn't played at Narashino, so that's a nice advantage for Kang, who didn't post an over-par round in the 2019 version of this event en route to a T17 finish. After a mostly forgettable 2021, Kang turned the corner this summer, seeing the weekend in six of his last seven starts.
Top-5 Finish: 9-1
Wallace is one of those golfers that pops when it comes to comparing metrics to odds, as he gained strokes in every category last season. After going through a rough stretch recently where he withdrew from the first playoff event and missed his next three cuts, he rebounded with a top-15 at the Shriners Children's Open. Wallace already has five top-6 finishes despite playing a limited PGA Tour schedule against mostly stronger fields.
Top-5 Finish: 10-1
I'm going to ride the hot hand with Higgs, who is gaining 0.96 strokes per round on the field dating back to the Wyndham Championship in August. He's starting to look much more like the golfer we saw when he first came on Tour for the 2019-20 season, and I want to capitalize on his odds before the oddsmakers start to take notice.
Hughes tends to play his best golf on shorter, tougher courses where he can let his world-class short game shine. He's also not afraid to play well in elevated events, notching a pair of top-15s in his last two majors. van Rooyen has certainly played well over the past few months, but he's typically boom-or-bust, making Hughes the smarter play at even money.
Both players took part in this event in 2019, with Schenk finishing T22 and nine shots ahead of Pan. Schenk is also playing much better golf than he was two years ago, with three top-5s since July and only two missed cuts. Pan is also in good form, but his results are more volatile, making him a risky head-to-head target.
First Round Leader
Joaquin Niemann (35-1)
Niemann typically does a good job getting off to a quick start when he's in form, ranking 18th in first round scoring average last season. He also held the lead after the first day of the Sony Open this year after firing a first-round 62. His length off the tee – he was 13th in driving distance last season – and solid approach play – +0.33 strokes gained on approach during the previous campaign – makes him a strong candidate to post a low round out of the gate.