The PGA Tour heads to Japan for the first time ever this week for the inaugural Zozo Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.
Attracted by a giant $9.75-million purse, the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Thomas headline the 78-man field. Eleven of the world's top 20 golfers will play, with all attendees guaranteed four rounds in another no-cut tournament after last week's CJ Cup.
The Challenge: Japan Skins kicked off the Tour's week in Japan. Though it didn't provide much memorable golf, it gave bettors a glimpse of the tests Accordia will present during the Zozo Championship. Located a few miles outside Tokyo, the course is extremely tight with tree-lined fairways on nearly every hole. It should pose a strategic challenge for players, limiting most golfers' ability to overpower it with their drivers.
Here are the odds for the favorites at the Zozo Championship, as well as their latest performances:
|Player||Odds||Last 3 starts|
|Justin Thomas||7-1||1 - T4 - T9|
|Rory McIlroy||8-1||26 - T9 - 2|
|Hideki Matsuyama||16-1||T3 - 16 - MC|
|Jordan Spieth||20-1||T8 - T37 - T6|
|Paul Casey||20-1||MC - T11 - 1|
|Xander Schauffele||20-1||T46 - 2 - T19|
Thomas is downright scary right now. His recent run of dominance continued at the CJ Cup where he won as the betting favorite. Six of his 11 career victories have occurred west of California; guess where Japan is located.
McIlroy is a deserving second behind Thomas at 8-1. The No. 2 player in the world headed to Europe after claiming the 2019 FedEx Cup and contended twice. Though Accordia doesn't fit his game on paper, McIlroy already played the course in a competitive setting during the Japan Skins game and is one of the few players who could dominate the venue with all-world driving ability.
There's a significant drop-off beyond the top two, with Hideki Matsuyama a distant third at 16-1. The local favorite will face a ton of media attention and external pressure. It'll be surprising if Matsuyama can pull off the victory in his home country.
That leaves Paul Casey, Xander Schauffele, and Jordan Spieth as the remaining golfers priced at 20-1 or below. Spieth once again rode a hot putter last week for a T8 finish in South Korea. Casey and Schauffele, meanwhile, both possess the driving ability and elite iron play to claim this week's title; betting both for a 10-1 price is an interesting option.
There aren't many clear value options that jump off the page in the 20-1 to 50-1 range, perhaps due to fear that Thomas will win back-to-back events in the Asian swing.
That said, short-course specialist Gary Woodland is definitely worth a look at 25-1. He's regarded as one of the longer players on Tour, ranking 13th in driving distance last season, but tends to thrive on courses where he isn't forced to hit driver off the tee; his U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach was a prime example. The 35-year-old finished T3 at the CJ Cup last week.
Also in this range are some of the best ball-strikers in the world: Adam Scott (22-1), Tommy Fleetwood (25-1), Viktor Hovland (25-1), and Tony Finau (28-1). Unfortunately, Accordia should neutralize their biggest weapons - their drivers - bringing more players who might not hit it as far into the mix. In other words, there are too many golfers with winning potential to go overboard betting multiple names from the 20-1 range.
It's worth noting Woods is priced at 33-1 in his 2019-20 season debut. The 43-year-old looked extremely rusty in the Japan Skins contest, and the main worry is he's only in Japan to collect his appearance fee and head home. But Tiger hasn't been priced at 33-1 in a very long time.
As mentioned above, the potential for Accordia's tight, tree-lined fairways to level the playing field brings more long shots into play despite the talent atop the betting board. Targeting shorter-hitting players who rely on accuracy, solid iron play, and putting is a good approach to take this week.
Kevin Kisner (66-1) has a proven track record on tight courses where distance isn't required. Corey Conners (66-1) isn't the longest hitter on Tour but consistently ranks near the top in strokes gained: off-the-tee stats. Both players can give themselves plenty of birdie chances by finding fairways on a regular basis.
Further down, Ian Poulter (80-1) is accurate off the tee and a great long-iron player. He finished T16 at the CJ Cup last week. At 125-1, Si Woo Kim is once again not getting the respect he deserves. He lingered inside the top 10 in South Korea before a three-hole stretch Saturday derailed his week. Kim's won twice and recorded multiple top-10 finishes on short, tight PGA Tour courses.
Justin Thomas (7-1)
Anyone else sick and tired of picking losers? It's time to change things up and attack the very top of the betting board with Thomas. Yes, 7-1 is a short price, but he loves winning tournaments in Asia and has won back-to-back events in his career before.
If you're inclined to juice up his number, parlay Thomas with your favorite football pick to get him to roughly 14-1.
Kevin Kisner (66-1)
It's slightly concerning that Kisner hasn't played since the Tour Championship, but he did conclude last season with back-to-back top-10 finishes. He's played well at Colonial and nearly all of Pete Dye's courses, which share similarities with Accordia.
Ian Poulter (80-1)
Poulter is a little off the radar this week, but an 80-1 number is too good to pass up given his history. Like Kisner, the Englishman plays well on Pete Dye-designed courses that emphasize strategy over power. Four of his last eight worldwide wins occurred in Asia, including a victory in Japan in 2007.