Zozo Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
PATRICK CANTLAY began his astonishing 2020-21 season by holding off Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas to win the Zozo Championship 12 months ago. At the time, it was his third career PGA Tour title, and he would go on to land three more and finish the year by winning the FedEx Cup and securing his place in the American Ryder Cup team that thrashed Europe at Whistling Straits.
The American equalled his career-low of nine birdies in the final round to shoot 65 (-7) for a finishing score of 23 under par. Thomas, the 54-hole leader, shot three under and Rahm, who began the final day one back, posted a score of four under par to narrowly miss out.
Cantlay was out in four under and then made four birdies in five holes from the 11th tee to take the lead.
He could even afford a bogey on the par-5 16th with both Thomas and Rahm shooting level par on the back nine.
It was Cantlay’s first win since June 2019 at The Memorial Tournament and it took him back inside the world’s top 10, moving up to 9th.
“I played really well. I feel like I have been playing well for a while and this week it just kind of all came together every day,” Cantlay said. “Obviously I started today a few back, but I knew I had to go out and make a bunch of birdies. And today was actually the only day I made a bogey, but offset it with enough birdies. I think it’s just validation of all the hard work. I put in a lot of work and try to do the right things all the time, so when it all does come together, it’s really rewarding because it’s all that hard work paying off.”
Rory McIlroy finished in T17th at 15 under par despite making 29 birdies in 72 holes - the most in his PGA Tour career.
This year’s tournament returns to Japan - it was held in the United States last year because of the pandemic - with a field of 78, no 36-hole cut and a total prize fund of nearly $10m. So it is well worth winning.
There will be 13 Japanese players in the field, including Masters champion Hideki Mastuyama, but, quite understandably, a number of top Americans have decided not to travel to Japan - Cantlay among them. There will also be no Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau. Only two members of America’s triumphant Ryder Cup team will be in attendance, Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele, and they will be joined by a number of Europe’s best golfers, including Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Matt Wallace and Paul Casey. Rickie Fowler also continues his efforts to rediscover his best form.
PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Will Zalatoris will also be playing at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba.
A total of 5,000 fans will be admitted each day. Travis Steiner, Executive Director of the Zozo Championship, said: “It is tremendous that the field will showcase an eclectic line-up of global golf stars from the PGA Tour. It will be amazing for golf fans in Japan to have the opportunity to watch stalwarts from the U.S. and European Ryder Cup teams in action.”
Zalatoris, 25, is among the new crop of rising stars in American golf. During the 2020-21 PGA Tour Season, he amassed an impressive eight top-10s including a runner-up finish behind Matsuyama in The Masters in April and was subsequently voted as Rookie of the Year by his peers.
The tournament will showcase a 78-man field who will compete over four rounds with no cut. As Japan’s first official PGA Tour event, it was successfully launched at Narashino in 2019 when Tiger Woods claimed the inaugural title with a three-shot victory over Matsuyama en route to equalling Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories.
As a full FedExCup tournament, the winner will earn 500 FedExCup points and will be fully exempt until the end of the PGA Tour’s 2023-24 season. It will be co-sanctioned once again with the Japan Golf Tour Organisation.
Tournament officials are working closely with the Japanese government to come up with a health, safety and prevention plan which will allow golfers to travel into Japan. All aspects of the tournament will be made in consultation with the Japanese government, local prefectural and city governments.
Narashino Country Club measures 7,244 yards and is a par 72. Like many Japanese golf courses, it has two greens at every hole. Designed by Kinya Fujita, it opened in 1965. It is a parkland course with tree-lined fairways.
It was won in 2019 by Tiger Woods and last year by Patrick Cantlay.
Tommy Fleetwood finally showed a return to form at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he finished in a tie for seventh. This is a golf course that calls for accuracy from the tee and should suit the Englishman, who is still looking for his first PGA Tour win. Hideki Matsuyama will start as favourite and will have huge home support. He is also in form. Apart from his Masters victory back in April, he finished in a tie for third at the Olympic Games, losing out in a playoff for the bronze medal, and he also lost in a playoff at the WGC St Jude, where Abraham Ancer finally landed his maiden PGA Tour title. It is only a matter of time before Zalatoris wins after a rookie season in which he enjoyed eight top-10 finishes.
Hideki Matsuyama. Would love to deliver for the home fans
Will Zalatoris. Class act
Tommy Fleetwood. Course is made to measure for him
Players to Follow:
Hideki Matsuyama. Enjoying a wonderful year
Will Zalatoris. A superstar of the future
Tommy Fleetwood. Must break his duck soon
Xander Schauffele. Revived by winning Olympic gold
Five Outsiders to Watch
Alex Noren. Has played some decent golf recently
Erik van Royen. Beautiful golf swing
Chris Kirk. Getting back to his best
Doc Redman. Bright prospect
Satoshi Kodaira. Excellent Japanese golfer
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