Zozo Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Tiger Woods equalled Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories when he won the Zozo Championship in Japan last year and he returns to defend the title at Sherwood Country Club as he prepares for The Masters at Augusta next month.
Woods said: “I am excited to defend my title. It is disappointing that we will not be able to play in Japan this year, but Sherwood Country Club will be a great backdrop for what I know will be a great championship.”
Last year, the American golf legend equalled Snead’s record with a three-stroke victory at the inaugural Zozo Championship played at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan. Woods led from start to finish to beat Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, while Rory McIlroy and Sungjae Im of Korea shared third place.
World No. 2 Jon Rahm and 18-time PGA Tour winner McIlroy have also committed and will be joined by Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth in the 78-man field.
“It is a pleasure to welcome these global stars. Their participation will undoubtedly aid in delivering an exciting competition for our fans in Japan, the United States and all around the world tuning in from home,” said Executive Director Travis Steiner. “Although we will miss the opportunity to return to Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan, we are thrilled to call Sherwood Country Club home for one year, especially considering the rich history the course holds to so many players returning to Thousand Oaks this October.”
(Tiger Returns to Action)
There is also a sizeable Japanese contingent in the field and it will be worth keeping on eye on Takumi Kanaya.
The 22-year-old Kanaya, ranked No. 1 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking and winner of the 2020 McCormack Medal, has only just turned professional. Kanaya’s career rise has closely mirrored that of Matsuyama. Both players attended Tohoku Fukushi University and won the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship – Matsuyama in 2010 and 2011 and Kanaya in 2018. Interestingly, Matsuyama won the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters in 2011 as an amateur which Kanaya achieved the feat last November with an eagle on the 72nd hole.
“I’m extremely grateful for the invitation to participate in the Zozo Championship,” said Kanaya. “I’d like to first express my sincere gratitude to the organisers and all the people involved in making this tournament possible during such a difficult time. I am very honored to have such a valuable opportunity to play immediately after turning professional. I look forward to competing in such a strong field and will do my best to play well and stay competitive,” added Kanaya, whose amateur accolades include runner-up finishes in the 2018 Asian Games and individual category of the 2018 World Amateur Team Championships and making the halfway cut at the Masters Tournament last year.
Apart from Matsuyama, other Japanese golfers in the field include two-time Japan Golf Tour No. 1 Shugo Imahira, Rikuya Hoshino, Mikumu Horikawa, Naoki Sekito and Ryo Ishikawa, a 17-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, and Satoshi Kadoira. Thai duo Jazz Jane Wattanananond and Gunn Charoenkul, South Africa’s Shaun Norris and American Chan Kim complete the exemptions from the Japan Golf Tour, which is a co-sanction partner of the event.
McIlroy, the 2019 FedExCup champion, finished equal third last year and will arrive at Sherwood having finished eighth in the 2019-20 FedExCup final standings, following one victory and seven top-10s. His lone win came at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China last November. He has made two previous starts at Sherwood, finishing fourth and 11th in the 2010 and 2013 Hero World Challenge, respectively. He finally showed some of his old spark at the CJ Cup.
“I had a great time at the inaugural Zozo Championship and will be hoping to build on last year’s success. I’ll miss playing in Japan this year but hopefully, we’ll get to return soon,” said McIlroy.
Although Fleetwood has yet to capture a win on the PGA TOUR, he has come close several times. He had one top-10 and four top-25s during the 2019-20 PGA Tour season including a third-place finish at The Honda Classic in March where he took a one-shot lead into the final day. In more than 70 career starts on the PGA Tour since 2013, Fleetwood has 17 top-10s, including four runner-up finishes.
Fleetwood said: “Naturally, it’s disappointing not to be playing in Japan. It is a magical country and one that I look forward to returning in 2021. I love the passion for golf that the fans have there and hope to see them all next year! Great work though and hats off to the organisers for relocating the tournament to California. Sherwood is a course I’ve heard a lot about so I can’t wait to play there. An elite field event is one that all players want to compete in so I’m very grateful for the opportunity and will be doing my best to win!”
Rory McIlroy. Finally showed some decent form at the CJ Cup
Rory McIlroy. Needs a win
Tiger Woods. Great memories of this event
Jon Rahm. A powerhouse
Webb Simpson. As consistent as they come
Hideki Matsuyama. Looking really good again
Tommy Fleetwood. Has showing some indifferent form but it cannot last
Phil Mickelson. If he can find a few fairways he can still be competitive
Justin Thomas. Sure to be there or thereabouts
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