Zozo Championship Contenders
The field this year is substantially weaker than it was two years ago, with only three of the world’s top-30 featuring this week, leaving Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa and Matsuyama as the market leaders, and it’s the former that get’s our vote of confidence.
Schauffele’s consistency on tour is almost frightening and going back to January last year he’s now only missed two of 37 possible cuts, making the top-25 in 30 of those, with the majority coming in much stronger fields so it’s hard to envisage him not being in the mix come Sunday evening.
More telling though is his form in Japan, with his last appearance here coming at the Olympics, in which he took home the gold medal and he’ll harness confidence from that win upon his return here.
The American also featured in this competition two years ago at this course, finishing in a tie for 10th in what we’ve already mentioned was a far stronger field than we have here.
If 2019’s edition is anything to go by, then this course will likely be forgiving off the tee, and those who hit their greens in regulation and get a good feel for the greens early on will fare extremely well here.
Schauffele ranked in the top-15 for both metrics last year, while the top four putters that week all finished in the top six, while five of the top six for greens in regulation finished 17th or better.
Schauffele has ranked seventh and eighth for putting in his last two trips to Japan, and hit over 70% of his greens on both occasions, so if he’s remotely on his game here he has a fantastic chance of clinching this title.
With just a few of the world’s true elite featuring here, an opportunity presents itself for some of the fringe players to make their mark, and the one we’re happy to get behind doing so is Emiliano Grillo.
After what was a relatively underwhelming opening three days at the CJ Cup last weekend, the Argentine found gold with the putter and had the best Sunday in the field as he carded an 11 under to break the top-20 in the end.
That will do the youngster the world of confidence considering his putter has often been his least favoured club, while he’s also shown signs in the past of being a streaky golfer, and we’ll back him to put on another show here.
Indeed, having finished in sixth at the Corales Puntacana early on last season, he then followed up with an even more impressive second place at the Heritage, while the season before he finished in third at the 3M Open only to follow that up with a ninth at the Barracuda Championship.
He’s made all four of his cuts in Japan too going 2-16-8-30 from his outings in this country and that, coupled with his performance last weekend and this weaker than usual field should give him great confidence of competing here.
Finally, it’s another South American that takes our fancy. Joaquin Niemann had a poor week with the putter in Vegas last time out, and a similar display here wouldn’t have him anywhere near the top of the leader board.
However, we wouldn’t expect another one with the quality on the greens that Niemann possesses.
His consistency is arguably in the same category as Schauffele’s as even if he’s not as prolific as the American, he’s now missed just one cut since August last year and in this field he should take great confidence from that.
He finished 33rd two years ago here, though this track certainly suits the player he’s become more than the player he was back then, while he also proved he can cope with Japanese conditions when finishing in the top-10 at the Olympics this summer, where he ranked third for greens in regulation.
He looks well priced up considering the company he’s in, and we’re happy to get behind him to get his second PGA Tour victory.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE TO WIN
EMILIANO GRILLO E/W
JOAQUIN NIEMANN E/W