The top three favorites in the field will play together for the first two rounds when the PGA Tour returns to Japan for the Zozo Championship starting on Thursday.
Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, and Hideki Matsuyama will play together for the first two rounds at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club near Tokyo.
Zozo Championship back in Japan
The Zozo Championship is Japan’s first PGA Tour event. The first installment of the tournament came in 2019 when Tiger Woods won the event by shooting 19-under-par. The tournament moved to the United States last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schauffele has pleasant memories of golfing in Japan just this year. Over the summer, the American won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Now, he’s the +700 favorite to win the Zozo Championship, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
“Winning here would be really cool,” Schauffele said, via Golf Digest. “It would be really special to win twice in Japan, especially since I don’t live here. I think it would be a huge honor for my family if I was able to do that, and I’m going to do my best this week.”
Morikawa (+750) comes in as a close second choice behind Schauffele. He missed out on a bronze medal in the Summer Olympics in a playoff, and is coming in hot, finishing in a tie for second last week at the CJ Cup behind Rory McIlroy.
For Morikawa, golfing in Japan with fans in attendance may be even more exciting than his Olympic experience.
“Even though it was the Olympics and we know what we were playing for, it just, it has a different feeling when you have fans,” Morikawa told Yahoo Sports. “I remember my first tee shot out here two years ago when there [were] fans on stools and lined up five, six people deep. They would cheer for you walking to tee boxes, hitting every tee shot whether it’s good or bad.”
Matsuyama unhappy with game despite success
Winning at the Zozo Championship might mean more to Matsuyama (+1100) than any other golfer in the field. The Japanese star finished second in 2019 behind Woods, and tied for fourth at the Olympics. He even won the 2021 Masters back in April. Yet Matsuyama says he still wants to take his game to another level.
“Ball striking, putting, chipping, all of these have not reached the level I want,” Matsuyama told Golf Digest, speaking of his current form. “If my game scored 10 out of 10 at the Masters, now I would say it scores less than one.”
|Zozo Championship Odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook)|
|Xander Schauffele: +700||Collin Morikawa: +750|
|Hideki Matsuyama: +1100||Joaquin Niemann: +1800|
|Will Zalatoris: +1800||Tommy Fleetwood: +2500|
|Rickie Fowler: +2800||Jhonattan Vegas: +2800|
|Maverick McNealy: +3000||Brendan Steele: +3500|
|Alexander Noren: +3500||Keegan Bradley: +3500|
There are other likely contenders, including Joaquin Niemann and Will Zalatoris, both of whom rate as +1800 picks to win. But most of the attention will be on the top three. And with Matsuyama playing in front of his home fans, the eyes of Japan will be on him, even if he’s not sure he’ll live up to their expectations.
“I will be struggling this week,” Matsuyama said. “But I am here in Japan, so I am motivated to be in contention.”