For the second year in a row and third time total, the PGA Tour is in Japan for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP.
This event originated in 2019, but the pandemic moved the event to Sherwood Country Club in California in 2020.
We’re back at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, site of Tiger Woods’ 82nd and most recent PGA Tour victory in 2019.
Narashino opened in 1965 and is a parkland-style course measuring 7,224 yards for a par 70. Like many Japanese courses, it features two greens on every hole. This is done to keep greens playable during different seasons.
For the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, the bentgrass greens in place for the winter season will be played and expect to roll around 11 on the stimpmeter.
There are three par-5s and five par-3s on the scorecard.
It’s a short, tree-lined course so accuracy is rewarded this week. Length is not a necessity.
ShotLink was not available to collect stats in 2019 or 2021, so statistics to work with are pretty bare bones.
This is a 72-hole event with no 36-hole cut. There are 78 players competing for an $11 million purse. Sixty players come from the top 60 available from the 2021-22 FedExCup standings, nine are special exemptions, eight are from the Japan Golf Tour money list, and the winner of the 2022 BMW Japan Golf Tour Championship Mori Building Cup earns the last spot.
The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP usually attracts one of the fall’s top fields.
Only two of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Rankings are in the field but five more from the top 25 will be present.
Weather for the week will be temperatures in the 50s-70s with some rain possible early in the tournament. Wind doesn’t look to be a huge factor.
Let’s dive into this week’s top 10:
Sepp Straka didn’t look too great in his debut at Narashino Country Club last year, but I’m willing to overlook that to a degree.
That’s because his career trajectory has skyrocketed since this time last year.
The 29-year-old Austrian-American had a middling career on the PGA Tour until breaking through in February for his first win at the Honda Classic.
Straka has been unable to win since, but he’s played well enough to show that it may not have been a fluke. The former Georgia Bulldog followed it up with five top-10s since then and is making himself a European Ryder Cup prospect next fall.
Straka has two runner-ups in the past few months, doing so in the FedEx Cup Playoffs at TPC Southwind and in his last start two weeks ago at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
He’ll have an advantage over players in the field this week coming over from the DP World Tour in Spain or even farther from the PGA Tour stop last week in Las Vegas.
While a T-66th (74-70-76-69) was not what Straka had in mind last year at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, seeing the course once should still help for the second time around. Getting into a limited field event like this last year was a good step, and it gave him some guaranteed cash until he really started filling his wallet in 2022.
Straka ranked 39th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained around the green per round (.285) in 2021-22. His stats aren’t incredibly gaudy, but he’s a player who can climb the leaderboard on his hot weeks.