With the first leg of its three week ‘Asian swing’ concluded the PGA Tour moves this week from South Korea over to Japan for the Zozo Championship, while on the European Tour we have the last regular-season event, the Portugal Masters.
We’ll start this week with the Zozo Championship and what is a first foray for the PGA Tour on to Japanese soil.
The course, which has the honour of hosting the action is the Narashino CC, a par 70 track measuring 7041yds, situated about 26 miles east of downtown Tokyo. Similarly to last weeks event we have a limited field in play with 78 players competing who will play all four rounds.
As is always the case when a new course is used on tour there is an element of speculation involved as to the type of test the players will face, however with a tree-lined layout in play it appears the challenge will be a test of accuracy and precision in to smaller than average greens, rather than one of power.
It is also worth noting that rather than four par 3’s and two par 5s in play, which you would normally expect on a par 70, the course features five par 3s and three par 5s, and this leads me further to think that strong Iron play will be the key this week.
The field and betting market are headed up by Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy who are both available at single-figure odds. Behind this pair, we then find home favourite Hideki Matsuyama. Also in action this week is Tiger Woods who is making his first start since recent knee surgery.
While I am happy to swerve Hideki, who I suspect will find the home spotlight tough, it is again hard to look past the credentials of the two market leaders, however from our point of view our strategy last week of swerving the big two in the market still brought us dividends with a full place return on Cam Smith and I am going to continue in that same vein and hunt for the e/w value, starting things off with current US Open Champion Gary Woodland.
My case for Woodland is built on two separate themes, firstly if we look at his form in Asia over recent years we see that in the two events that have been played each year as a lead up to the WGC he has a stellar record, posting five top-five finishes in nine starts, including his third-place last week in Korea.
Secondly, Gary also has an excellent record on shorter tracks including his victory at Pebble Beach.
In addition, he is also a former winner of the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course, which as a tree-lined track with five par 3s in play, reminds me a lot of the test the players face this week.
Next up for me is Ryan Moore. As a two-time winner in Malaysia Moore enjoys his trips East. Eighth last week in Korea Moore is trending in the right direction and this anticipated test of accuracy looks like being right up his alley.
I shall finish our team for Japan with the Canadian pair of Adam Hadwin and Corey Conners. Hadwin, another former Valspar Champion, arrives here on the back of two top-four finishes, while Conners, 12th last week in Korea, should relish this test of iron play. Both will be keen to make a late impression on Ernie Els for a Presidents Cup pick and are fancied to go well.
Taking a brief look at the Portugal Masters on the European Tour and we’re back at the regular haunt for this event, the par 71, 7200yd, Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura.
Unsurprisingly for an exposed course on the Atlantic coast, several players with good links pedigree have flourished here over recent years and on this basis, I shall play two against the field, Chris Paisley and Callum Shinkwin. Paisley who finished eighth last week in France has produced some great results here historically, while Shinkwin tends to save his best stuff for coastal tracks including when tenth at the Dunhill recently and this is just the sort of lower-profile affair in, which he could finally notch his first tour win.