ZOZO Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Tiger Woods returns to action for the first time since The Open Championship at the inaugural Zozo Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Japan. While there is bound to be a huge amount of interest in how he performs, Woods will know that he will need to be at his very best as he takes on an elite field that includes Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Gary Woodland and Shane Lowry. It is the first time the PGA Tour has visited Japan.
Woods won The Masters in April but struggled for the rest of the year and eventually had to go under the knife again. It will be fascinating to see how he performs but he is bound to be rusty and will do incredibly well to contend.
The tournament boasts a prize fund of $9.75m and a field that features 53 PGA Tour winners, six FedEx Cup champions, 14 major winners and 10 Presidents Cup team members. Unsurprisingly, tickets are completely sold out, so a tremendous atmosphere is guaranteed, with local spectators hoping to cheer Matsuyama to victory.
Thomas won the BMW Championship during the FedExCup Playoffs for his 10th career win and added the CJ Cup in Korea at the weekend and he is keen to win in Japan as he returns to his best form after recovering from a niggling wrist injury that blighted much of his season. He understands the role he has in the game and said: “It’s fun to have the opportunity to grow your brand and grow the game. I’ve had great success over there [Asia] and hopefully I’ll be able to channel some of those vibes that I’ve had in the past years. I’m just excited to play in Japan and I’m sure the fans will be out in full force.”
Scott is a 13-time PGA Tour winner where his list of accolades includes victories at the Players Championship, Tour Championship and Masters. He showed some impressive form last season to qualify for a record ninth appearance for the International Team to face the USA in the Presidents Cup at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia in December.
Woodland and Lowry have also enjoyed an outstanding year with life-changing wins at the U.S. Open and The Open Championship in June and July respectively for their first major victory. Lowry also still has his eyes on capturing the Race to Dubai. Woodland said: “I’ve been to Japan previously for the Dunlop Phoenix which I had a great time and I’m looking forward to going back. The fans there love golf which is awesome. It’s nice for us to travel, especially to a country which loves golf. I hope to put on a good show.”
Big hitting Bubba Watson is likely to attract big galleries. He said: “It’s always fun when players have the opportunity to visit new places and play in new tournaments. I’m really looking forward to the Zozo. I’ve always loved playing in Japan and I hope I can add this trophy to my collection.”
Sergio Garcia continues his busy end to the season. He usually travels well, with victories in Korea, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Qatar and Dubai, as well as 10 wins on the PGA Tour. “Japan is a wonderful destination,” he said. "It is a golf-loving country and has produced some great Japanese golfers and I am sure the game will benefit by having the Zozo Championship held there. I know the fans are passionate about our sport over there and I’m hoping to play well in front of them. I’ve won multiple times across Asia so I’ve got a good record to back me up when I’m over there. As it is part of the fall schedule, it’s also important to play well to garner early FedExCup points.”
Paul Casey, who finished fifth in the FedEx Cup, won recently on the European Tour. He said: “I’ve always enjoyed traveling around the world competing in different countries and enjoying various cultures in the different continents. I’ve had the opportunity to win tournaments in China and Korea previously so I’m looking forward to going to Japan and hopefully adding this wonderful country onto my list of wins.”
Kuchar, who won twice during the 2018-19 season, is among 10 Presidents Cup team members who will be competing in Japan, including Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. International Team members Marc Leishman of Australia, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, Scott and Matsuyama will be hoping to strike a blow for Ernie Els’ team.
With International captain Els and US skipper Woods ready to name their four picks early next month, Woodland, Spieth, Patrick Reed and Matthew Wolff will be eager to catch his eye in Japan. And if Woods should win, he will then give himself the ultimate dilemma: does he pick himself?.
The tournament features an elite 78-man field, including the leading 60 players from the 2018-19 FedExCup points list, 10 designated by the Japan Golf Tour Organization and eight special exemptions.
Rory McIlroy. He’s is here to win. Again!
Hideki Matsuyama. Hugely impressive
Justin Thomas. Fit and firing again
Rory McIlroy. On his day, he is still the best in the business
Hideki Matsuyama. Will have massive support
Justin Thomas. A serial winner
Jordan Spieth. He’s back!
Jason Day. Get a move on Jason
Adam Scott. Going up in the world again
Gary Woodland. Hits the ball a mile
Tiger Woods. Will be playing for pride
Matt Kuchar. The money machine turns up for another big payday
Shane Lowry. Living the dream
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