This article is part of our FanDuel PGA series.
The Zozo Championship
Narashino Country Club (7,041 yards, par 70)
Winner: $1.755,000 and 500 FedExCup points
This is a new event on the PGA Tour schedule, essentially replacing the CIMB Classic, and the Zozo Championship should start with a bang thanks to an unbelievable field. The main draw, of course, is Tiger Woods, who is set for his season debut and will make what is likely his only start in an official PGA Tour event during the fall portion of the schedule. Joining him is the unofficial host, Hideki Matsuyama, as well as FedExCup winner Rory McIlroy. CJ Cup champion Justin Thomas will be looking for his fifth career PGA Tour win in Asia, and Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, and Jordan Spieth are among the other notable names teeing it up this week. Rain should be prevalent throughout the tournament, making conditions very favorable for the players. Winds should blow a bit Thursday and Friday then die down on the weekend. For the second week in a row, there will be no cut for the 78 players in the field.
Key Stats to Victory
Unless you are familiar with golf in Japan, you might be asking yourself why it looks like the greens are so close to each other. That's because every hole features two greens – one that is primarily a summer green, and another that is used mainly in the winter months. The greens the players will play this week will typically be the larger of the two. The bentgrass greens will run around 11.5 on the Stimpmeter, meaning they will be a jump up in speed from what players faced last week at the CJ Cup. Iron play should be the biggest source of separation between the players in the field. Narashino CC features five par-3s, and the soft conditions will make approaching these greens similar to a game of Target Golf. Shots hit into the rough will be a roll of the dice, as it's just about as likely the ball will sit up as it is to sink to the bottom. The zoysia grass can extend beyond three inches in some areas.
FanDuel Value Picks
Justin Thomas, ($12,200)
He won his 11th PGA Tour title last week at the age of 26. He's won four times in Asia. He has finished T12 or better in eight straight starts. That's about all we need to say here.
Hideki Matsuyama, ($11,200)
Matsuyama will have the home crowd behind him this week. The top-ranked player from Japan is trending in the right direction, finishing inside the top 16 in four of his last five starts, capped off with a T3 last week in Korea. Ball striking has always been his forte, but the putter coming around has been the difference maker.
Adam Scott, ($10,600)
The Aussie began 2019 outside the top 40 in the OWGR, but has quietly risen into the top 15 entering this week's event. Scott has finished inside the top 20 in five of his last six starts worldwide. He has already shown he is comfortable here in Japan, posting a T5 last week at the Japan Open. Scott's ball striking remains unquestioned, but last season he was 10th in SG: Around-the-green and 31st in SG: Putting. The only two players that gained more strokes to the field were Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay.
Gary Woodland, ($10,300)
Other than Justin Thomas, not many Americans have played better in Asia recently than Woodland. After posting a T3 last week in Korea, he now has three straight top-5s in Asia. His length will also make a big difference at a soft golf course. Woodland was top-21 at the CJ Cup in driving accuracy, scrambling, GIR, and putts per GIR en route to only making five bogeys.
Longer Shots with Value
Adam Hadwin, ($8,900)
The Canadian went 2-T4 in back-to-back weeks in Napa and Vegas earlier this season and has not played since, so he should be well-rested. Hadwin ranks fourth in SG: Tee-to-green, third in SG: Approach, and second in greens in regulation percentage this season. The putter put him on the map, but this ball striking has taken his game to a new level. Narashino CC should be a perfect set up for Hadwin.
Ian Poulter, ($8,700)
The Englishman has posted four top-15 finishes in his last eight starts worldwide. It was capped off with a T16 last week in Korea, his fourth straight top-25 finish in East Asia. Poulter's short game is fantastic, but the key will be keeping the ball in the short grass. If he does that, there's no reason he shouldn't find himself around the top 10 by the end of the weekend.
Andrew Putnam, ($8,500)
Putnam has made the cut in 13 straight starts, with eight of them resulting in top-25 finishes. He also has done well in Asia recently, posting a T20 last week in Korea and a T4 last fall in China at the WGC-HSBC Champions. Last season Putnam ranked 32nd in SG: Approach and fifth in SG: Putting, a strong combination in almost any circumstances.
Ryan Palmer, ($7,900)
It could be a birdie-fest this week, and not many are better at going low than Palmer. The Texan ranked 13th last season in birdie average and was top-10 in total birdies in each of his first two starts this season. Palmer now finished T3 and T12 in each of his last two starts in Asia. He is also sneaky long off the tee, even at age 43.
Strategy Tips for this week (based on a 60k standard salary cap)
As you probably noticed in the Value Picks, the biggest factor I'm looking at is recent success in Asia. With little course knowledge, players that have shown they can play well in similar climates and course styles should be favored. I think not taking at least one of the top three players on the board this week – Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Hideki Matsuyama – would be a mistake. Saying that, there are plenty other players in the mid-tier range not mentioned above that would be quality plays: Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Reed, Sungjae Im, and Matthew Fitzpatrick have all played regularly the last month and have at least one top-five in that span. With no cut this week, it's time to get aggressive and go after players who make a lot of birdies and eagles.