October 18, 2023, 11:12 am
The PGA FedExCupFall returns to the far east for the ZOZO Championship in Japan. This will be the fourth edition of this tournament which has been part of the PGA Tour rotation since 2019 (with no tournament held in 2020 due to Covid). Last week, we saw Tom Kim get the job done and defend his title in Las Vegas at the Shriners Children’s Open. That is Kim’s third win on Tour and is off to one of the more promising starts to a career that we have seen in a while.
After the ZOZO, there will be a one-week break, and then a return for three more fall events to put a completion of the 2022-2023 PGA Tour season. With the PGA Tour tinkering with the schedule and format, I have provided a breakdown below of what is at stake for these fall events.
FedExCup points are still going to be accrued for those in the field that did not finish inside the top 50 of this past season’s standings. It is a little bit of a mess how they are doing this but here is my best attempt at summarizing everything:
- Those who finished inside the top-50 are qualified for Signature Events next season and can compete in the FedExCupFall events, but only for money and not accrue and FedExCup points.
- Those who finished 51-70 are guaranteed their Tour eligibility, but can continue to earn points to make themselves eligible for the first two Signature Events (after the Sentry Tournament of Champions).
- Those who finished the season at 71 and beyond are competing to be inside the top-125 by the end of the FedExCupFall and receive exemption for all full-field events and the PLAYERS Championship in 2024.
- All winners of events during the FedExCupFall series will receive invites to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, PLAYERS Championship, the Masters and the PGA Championship (if not already qualified).
The DraftKings plays were a solid core last week, as they all made the cut. J.T. Poston finished in a tie for third and was at modest ownership. J.J. Spaun did get steamed up a little as the week went on and was a little underwhelming with a T46 finish. A second round 73 (+2) really nuked his chances of contention and the all four rounds under 70 bonus. The value play of Troy Merritt was meh finishing T64 and really had nothing going after a strong start on Thursday.
Moving on now, let’s dig into the ZOZO Championship. Keep in mind this is a no cut event, so we are focused more on upside, rather than safety this week!
As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter (X) @mlafem10 where I post additional information and am always available for questions.
We get our first of three consecutive international tournaments kicked off this week as golfers head to Japan to play at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.
Playing as a par-70 at 7,079 yards, Narashino CC has seen winning scores of -15 in back-to-back years (by Hideki Matsuyama and Keegan Bradley) and the inaugural event in 2019 seeing a winning score of -19 by Tiger Woods. This is quite a different test than what golfers have seen to this point in the fall. Not necessarily in terms of scoring relative to par, but certainly in course design.
Narashino is not a big, open track like we have seen in recent weeks. The fairways are lined with large trees, making position off the tee a crucial part of success this week. There is an interesting dynamic with the yardages at this course, especially on the Par 4s. There are five “short” Par 4s, playing at or below 425 yards and five “long” Par 4s playing at or above 486 yards. The latter five holes play as the hardest on the course, all sporting a bogey rate above 20%.
We do get a rare appearance of a fairly difficult Par 5 this week, with the 608-yard 14th hole, which ranks as the 12th easiest hole on the course. Usually, the Par 5s rank as the easiest holes on the course (which the other two here do). The 14th still averages under par overall, but only yields a birdie about 22% of the time, which is rather low for a Par 5.
There are five Par 3s this week, all ranging in yardage and difficulty. The 7th and 13th hole are only 167 and 141 yards respectively, and are the third and fourth easiest holes on the course. The 3rd, 5th, and 16th holes all play between 180-210 yards and all rank inside the top nine of difficult holes on the course. The 5th hole in particular can cause some issue, as there is a bogey or worse there nearly 20% of the time.
The course the pros will be playing on this week is a mix of the 36 holes that are on the property (The King Course & The Queen Course). Another unique feature to the American eye of this property is the double greens. There are two greens per hole and per pgatour.com, it is a pretty common setup in Japan.
Here is a link to a flyover of the course:
This week is easily the most top-heavy name field we have gotten in the fall. Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler, Sungjae Im and Hideki Matsuyama all make their first (and probably final) appearances of the fall swing.
As of this writing, there are no withdrawals from the tournament.
There are no sponsors exemptions this week, however there this is a co-organized event with the Japan Golf Tour, so the top eight on the money list from that tour get a spot in the field. This week is a 78-player event with the no cuts.
Here are the key stats I am considering when building my lineups this week. Keep in mind that strokes gained data is a little tough to come by in international events, so this week is more art than science.
- SG: Approach– Iron play is always on this list and forever will be. It is the most correlated long-term stat with success. Looking at past winners here: Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama, Keegan Bradley, all profile as fantastic iron players.
- Good Drives%- This is a metric that measures whether the golfer hit the fairway off the tee or hit the green on their approach if they missed the fairway. What it is capturing is golfers that are putting themselves in good position off the tee, which is essential here.
- SG: P (Average Bentgrass)– Making putts is always a key ingredient to victory, so taking a look at who putts well on these surfaces is worth a look.
- Bogeys Avoided- Contrary to the past few weeks, bogeys should come more into play at Narashino. We want to target golfers who are going to limit the number of mistakes this week.
- Fairways Gained- A little reductive with Good Drives %, but I want to really emphasize how much trouble golfers can get into with wayward tee shots. Playing from the fairway will be a huge advantage.
DFS Top Tier Play
Yes, I am once again falling for the Morikawa trap. Narashino is a course that demands precision off the tee and excellent iron play. That of course, is the ideal setup for one of the best iron players in the world who also happens one of the best, if not the best in this field at positioning himself off the tee. Now, we have seen Morikawa in the year 2023 not take advantage of such setups (Travelers, Colonial, Harbour Town, etc.), but I am trusting the long-term process here. Much like the case I will be making for Adam Svensson below, I prefer Morikawa when conditions are a little more difficult and it will not be birdies galore. The bear case against Morikawa is that his course history has not been great here, with finishes of 45th, 7th, and 22nd, but I am not going overboard with course history here. For one, there have been only three tournaments played here, so the samples are relatively small, and secondly, per DataGolf, Narashino ranks as 32 out of 43 qualifying courses in terms of being predictive on Tour. The floor is certainly lower when comparing him to Xander Schauffele ($11,000), but I wouldn’t consider it any different to those right below him in pricing with Sungjae Im ($10,200), Rickie Fowler ($10,000) and Hideki Matsuyama ($9,800). Matsuyama in particular who is also a post lock withdraw risk. I like the two-time major champion to be hungry looking for his first victory of 2023.
Others Considered: Cameron Davis ($9,500), Min Woo Lee ($9,100)
DFS Mid Tier Play
When he has his iron game going, Svensson has one of the top tee-to-green games in the field. Svensson tends to be streaky with the irons and right now we should strike while the iron is hot (I’ll show myself out) as he has gained on approach in six of his last seven events, with five of those being at least two strokes on the field. We are also seeing some life with the putter, as the Canadian has gained on the green in four of his last five starts. This week’s surface of Bentgrass is the only green type where Svensson gains strokes, so there is some confidence that he can keep that up as well. Recent form is on the side of Svensson as well, going two for two in the fall events he has played finishing 16th at the Sanderson Farms and 18th last week in Las Vegas. I usually don’t consider Svensson when it is a “birdie fest” because I don’t trust his putter enough over a four day stretch to cooperate, but I don’t see scoring getting out of control here, which should neutralize his biggest weakness. I do however, trust his precision off the tee, which should keep him position to attack the greens with his exceptional iron play. I did also consider going right back to J.J. Spaun at $7,900 which seems like too dramatic of a price dip after last week’s mediocre performance, but I like Svensson’s upside for high end finishes more and the possibility of him getting squeezed with ownership being sandwiched between Adam Schenk ($8,000), Emilliano Grillo ($8,600) and Beau Hossler ($8,500), who should all garner some love.
Others Considered: Emilliano Grillo ($8,600), J.J. Spaun ($7,900)
DFS Value Play
It’s tough to gauge how popular Nakajima will be on DraftKings this week, but I love the value we are getting here. If you are unfamiliar with Nakajima, he broke Jon Rahm’s record for longest consecutive streak being ranked number one in men’s amateur golf (87 weeks). After that, Nakajima turned pro about a year ago and has been tearing it up on the Japan Golf Tour. Nakajima has 13 top tens credited to his name in 2023, including two victories (most recently in August at the Yokohama Minato Championship). Obviously, we are talking about a different level of talent on the Japan Golf Tour compared to the PGA Tour, but it is still impressive to see that sort of dominance at a young age. Keita also has two appearances at the ZOZO, once as an amateur in 2021 where he finished T28 and last year as a professional, finishing T12. Good with long irons, above average off the tee with distance and an overall strong ball striking profile, Nakajima sets up well for what Narashino demands.
Others Considered: Cameron Champ ($7,100), Sam Ryder ($7,100)
Collin Morikawa +1200 (FD 1.4U)
Cameron Champ +5000 (FD .4U)
Sam Ryder +9000 (FD .2U)
Position Player Name DK Salary G Collin Morikawa $10,800 G Adam Svensson $8,200 G Keita Nakajima $6,800 G G G REMAINING BUDGET $24,200 for 3 golfers