Watching the Zozo Championship in Japan this week is a trip down memory lane as it was at the Narashino Country Club three years ago that Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of his time (and arguably of all time), scored his 82nd and probably final PGA Tour victory.
That number equalled Sam Snead’s record and unless Tiger has one more miracle for us it is a shame that, after the fallout from his car losing an argument with a tree and years of surgery on various parts of his anatomy, he looks like stopping there. But, as it’s Tiger, you just never know …
That three-shot victory over Japan’s favourite son Hideki Matsuyama came in the inaugural Zozo - if you’re wondering, it’s the brand name of a Japanese clothing giant - and as the 2020 edition was a Covid victim, punters have only the 2019 and 2021 Zozo for form guidance.
Just as Jon Rahm was always going to be the story in the Open de Espana, so it is with Matsuyama in front of his adoring fans in the PGA Tour’s sole venture into Japan. The pressure on Matsuyama will be marginally less because, unlike Spain, the local hero will be facing top-line opposition, headed by world No.5 Xander Schauffele and No.9 Collin Morikawa, so defeat will be far more excusable.
It is no secret that the Saudi-backed LIV Golf operation has made persistent overtures to Matsuyama who is reported to have turned down a signing-on fee even more eye-popping than the inducements offered to Open champion Cammie Smith and former world No.1 Dustin Johnson. Sums of $300m and higher have been bandied about such is the value of the 2021 Masters champion to LIV’s ambitions in Asia.
Nobody would be surprised if Matsuyama, once he has got the defence of his Zozo title out of the way - he eagled the last for a runaway victory last year - announces a change of heart. At 30 he still has plenty of great golf in him and is not obviously in decline, as many of the early defectors are.
He has already successfully defended a trophy before - back-to-back victories in Phoenix in 2016/17 - but a patchy 2022 in which he had to miss important tournaments because of neck and wrist problems suggests he will be vulnerable in what is a big ask.
There will plenty who fancy their chances of dethroning him, not least the spectacular 20-year-old Tom Kim, now twice a winner in his last four PGA starts after holding his nerve better than Patrick Cantlay in a fabulous duel in Las Vegas.
Between the Wyndham and Shriners triumphs the boy wonder made a lot of noise in an impressive Presidents Cup debut. The golf-mad Japanese will take the baby-faced South Korean to their hearts and his flamboyant presence should take some of the media heat off Matsuyama.
The fans already know Schauffele from the 2020 Olympics as the American ace won gold at Kasumigaseki, a course not too far from Narashino. Only 28th on this week’s course last year, this week’s 8/1 favourite finished fourth at the Tour Championship and won three out of four at the Presidents Cup on his two latest outings. Xander will surely be in the mix again.
So too fellow Californian Morikawa, another with a local tie-in as he is of Chinese-Japanese descent. Seventh at Narashino last year, expect the 2021 Open champion to improve considerably on a year that owes him a W.
Since his DP World Tour Championship triumph 11 months ago and with it the Race To Dubai honours, the first American to do so, Morikawa has produced a number of top-five finishes but under the radar as far as making the headlines. He can change all that in Japan.
Sungjae Im, third to Tiger in the 2019 Zozo and in terrific form in recent months, wasn’t disgraced in seventh place at the Shriners on Sunday, and Si Woo Kim, just a shot behind Im, complete a ferocious Korean challenge alongside new kid on the block Tom.
Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Sepp Straka and Tommy Fleetwood (disappointing last week) head the European challenge but I prefer Keegan Bradley, seventh and 13th on previous visits, and Sanderson Farms winner Mackenzie Hughes, fourth last year, a Canadian with supreme around-the-green skills.
It’s a short field of 78, there’s no cut so you’ll get four rounds for your money, a monster $11m prize fund to be won on a well-established 7079-yard par 70 parkland course and after a bit of rain on Thursday, players can expect a cloudy but dry week with temperatures in the high 70s.
My five bets all have course form - Matsuyama 31 under par in finishing first and second, Morikawa seventh last year, Im third in 2019, Hughes fourth a year ago and Bradley, seventh and 13th. But beware the two debutants, Tom Kim and Cameron Young, you’ll be hearing from them for quite a while.
Zozo Championship golf betting tips 2022
- 2pts each-way Collin Morikawa @ 14/1
- 1pt each-way Sungjae Im @ 12/1
- 1pt each-way Hideki Matsuyama @ 14/1
- 1pt each-way Mackenzie Hughes @ 70/1
- 1pt each-way Keegan Bradley @ 33/1
Golf betting offers:
Bet365 Bet £10 & Get £50 in Free Bets for new customers at bet365 (opens in new tab)
Min deposit requirement. Free Bets are paid as Bet Credits and are available for use upon settlement of bets to value of qualifying deposit. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply.
888Sport Bet £10 Get £30 in Free Bets + £10 Casino Bonus (opens in new tab)
New customers only. Min deposit £10. Qualifying bet is ‘real money’ stake of at least £10. Min odds 1/2 (1.5). Free Bets credited upon qualifying bet settlement expires after 7 days. Free Bet stakes not included in returns. Deposit balance available for withdrawal at any time. Withdrawal restrictions & full T&Cs apply.
William Hill Bet £10 Get £30 in Free Bets (opens in new tab)
New customers using Promo Code P30 only, min £10/€10 stake, min odds 1/2, free bets paid as 2 x £15/€15 (30 days expiry), free bet/payment method/player/country restrictions apply. *By entering the Promo code in the box above you agree to the full terms and conditions of this promotion as displayed below. See full terms below.
Betfair Get Up To £100 in Free Bets (opens in new tab)
New customer offer. Place 5 x £10 or more bets to receive £20 in free bets. Repeat up to 5 times to receive maximum £100 bonus. Min odds 1/2 (1.5). Exchange bets excluded. Payment restrictions apply. T&Cs apply.
Betfred Bet £10 Get £30 in Free Bets + 60 Free Casino Spins (opens in new tab)
New UK & NI customers only. Code ‘SPORTS60’. Place first sports bet of £10+ in one bet transaction, at odds of Evens +. settled within 60 days. First bet on Sports. £30 in Free Bets credited within 48 hours of settlement. Max 60 Free Spins on Justice League Comics. Full T&Cs apply.
New Customers Only. 18+ T&C Apply BeGambleAware
Celebrating my 52nd year tipping and writing about golf. Tipped more than 800 winners (and more than 8000 losers!). First big winner Lee Trevino at 8-1, 1972 Open at Muirfield. Biggest win £40 each-way Ernie Els at 80-1 and 50-1, 2012 Open. Most memorable: Giving the 1-2-3 at 33-1, 50-1, 33-1 out of 4 tips from a field of 180 in 2006 Pebble Beach Pro-Am. According to one bookmaker “Undoubtedly one of the greatest tipping performances of all time”. And, of course, putting up a 150/1 winner with Stewart Cink in my very first column for Golf Monthly. Lowest handicap 9 Present handicap 35.6. Publications tipped for: Sporting Life, Racing Post, Racing&Football Outlook, Golf World, Golf Weekly, Golf Monthly, Fitzdares Times. Check our Jeremy's latest tips at our Golf Betting tips home page
How Many Tours Does The PGA Tour Run?
The PGA Tour runs a number of different professional golf tours, from feeder circuits to its over-50s PGA Tour Champions
By Ross Kilvington • Published
Padraig Harrington Reveals 'Most Impressive Driver I've Played With'
Padraig Harrington has praised Denmark Nicolai Hojgaard as the "most impressive driver" he's played with
By Ross Kilvington • Published