Power rankings: Who is the biggest challenge to Hideki Matsuyama at Zozo Championship?
From Las Vegas to Japan, the PGA Tour gets ready to host its first limited-field event of the new season: the Zozo Championship.
Included in this week’s 78-player field are defending champion Hideki Matsuyama and three of the top 11 players in the Official World Golf Ranking: No. 5 Xander Schauffele, No. 9 Collin Morikawa and No. 11 Viktor Hovland.
The host venue, Narashino Country Club, has hosted two of the previous three Zozos, with Patrick Cantlay’s win in 2020 coming in California because of pandemic restrictions. Tiger Woods won the inaugural Zozo title over Matsuyama in 2019.
Judging on players who have won and played well at Narashino, it’s no surprise that elite iron play is critical. But one could argue that’s pretty much every Tour stop. However, per Data Golf, the longer guys have proven in this small sample size to have a slightly better advantage on the field than at other Tour venues.
It was a good week last week, as my top 10 for the Shriners yielded the winner (Tom Kim), both runners-up (Patrick Cantlay and Matt NeSmith), three more top-20s and all 10 players making the cut. My sleeper, Beau Hossler, fired a 64 on Saturday in Vegas before falling back to a T-64 finish.
So, let’s see if we can keep this hot run going. My top 10 power rankings for the Zozo:
1. Hideki Matsuyama: This is a no-brainer. A win and runner-up in the two Zozos in Japan. Not in elite form, but he’ll be ready for this week.
2. Sungjae Im: One of the hottest players in golf not named Tom Kim, with three runners-up in his last six starts plus a solo seventh at the Shriners. He also was T-3 in 2019, his only trip to Narashino.
3. Tom Kim: It’s good to be Tom Kim right now. Two wins in the past few months, including Sunday at the Shriners. And even though he’s just 20, he’s already got six professional wins in Asia.
4. Keegan Bradley: This is what you want to see. Bradley owns finishes of T-13 and most recently T-7 on this course, and he’s got momentum, having tied for fifth in his last start, at Sanderson Farms. Ball-striking, ball-striking, ball-striking.
5. Tommy Fleetwood: Took some time off following the death of his mother. Prior to that, he’d gone T-4 in two straight starts, including The Open. When he returned to action, he opened the BMW PGA in 64 and then was T-22 at the Dunhill Links. He was T-7 last time at Narashino and is one of only a handful of players in this field to play this course twice for the Zozo. He’s trending toward a big week.
6. Collin Morikawa: This marks his season debut after what could be summed up as an inconsistent year. Still, he looked to be getting that confidence back at the Presidents Cup, where he went 2-1. Improved on his T-22 in his debut here with a T-7 last year.
7. Cameron Young: This will be his first trip to Narashino, but like we said in the introduction, length matters here especially. Not many hit their driver like Young. No top-10s since back-to-back runners-up at The Open and Rocket Mortgage, but other than the Presidents Cup, he’s had time to recharge.
8. Xander Schauffele: Will be a popular pick because of his ties to Japan and his Olympic victory, but his record here isn’t the best – T-10 and T-28. Still, he’s the highest-ranked player in the field, well rested and coming off a nice Presidents Cup (3-1). He also performs well in limited-field events.
9. Sepp Straka: His T-66 here last year may scare some off, but keep in mind that followed four straight MCs. His last four starts entering this week – runner-up, T-28, T-6, runner-up. Currently third this fall in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
10. Si Woo Kim: Streaky player who is riding some Presidents Cup momentum. He was T-8 in Vegas, and though he’s not finished better than T-18 at Narashino, this will be his third look at the course. Almost went Mito Pereira here, so he’s another option as his iron play has been other worldly recently.
Sleeper: Lucas Herbert. Been playing some motivated golf after missing out on the Presidents Cup – T-5 in Italy, T-20 in Vegas. Tour’s best putter last year.