How to Bet the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
Photo credit: © Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

October through December used to be known as the “silly season” on the PGA Tour. It generally featured multiple “off weeks,” and the events that were played tended to be no-cut, small field events for the elite players – remember The Skins Game? Remember The Wendy’s Three Tour Challenge? How about the Skills Challenge? No? Well, that’s OK, because all that is gone now.

The PGA Tour used to be (off the record, of course) afraid of competing against the National Football League. By going largely dark from October through December, the Tour gave its rank and file players time to rest their bodies and its fans the chance to rebuild demand for the beginning of the new season in Hawaii and California in January. A funny thing happened, though: The Tour came to realize that it was leaving money on the table by doing this. For one thing, there are plenty of golf fans who would rather watch the Tour than a Dolphins/Jaguars game. For another, there are places in the world that really want to see the best golfers in the world somewhere other than on television.

In this guide for “How to Bet the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP” you’ll find our best bets and top picks.

That’s how we end up with the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP this week. This event was founded in 2019 as a joint-sanctioned tournament between the PGA Tour and the Japan Golf Tour. The 2019 event, played in Japan, was won by Tiger Woods. The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP could not have written a better script for its inaugural event. Little did any of us know that, for Woods, the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP and indeed the rest of the world, the heady times wouldn’t last. Woods is still on the mend from his February auto accident, and last year’s ZOZO Championship was relocated to California due to COVID-19 travel restrictions still limiting free movement in October of last year. The world is slowly reopening, though, and so the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP is back in Japan for 2021. For you, golf bettor, this means that the tee times will in American prime time on Wednesday night (Thursday morning half a world away). Don’t wake up Thursday morning thinking you can place a pre-tournament wager…the first round will already be over.

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ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP Picks and Best Bets

Value Pick: Collin Morikawa Top 10 Finish (-125)

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Look, the odds on this tournament are pretty gross. Essentially, there are three elite players in this field (Xander Schauffele, Hideki Matsuyama and Morikawa), a handful of solid Tour pros (Will Zalatoris, Charley Hoffman, Keegan Bradley), a couple of high-level international players (Joaquin Niemann and Tommy Fleetwood) – and then a whole bunch of guys you probably don’t know too much about. Morikawa missed a playoff last week at the CJ Cup by a single shot, closing with a 62.

Does Morikawa’s family ties to Japan mean that he has added incentive to play well this week? Actually, no – everything we have seen from Morikawa since he joined the Tour has proven that he is playing hard every week, no matter where he is. Against this field, a Top 10 should be nearly a given.

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Long Shot Pick: Keegan Bradley Top 5 Finish (+600)

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Bradley shot four straight rounds under par last week, including a closing 67, posted 16-under par for the tournament…and finished in a tie for 32 nd . Last week was basically a putting contest, which isn’t really Bradley’s favorite thing. Bradley finished 186th in strokes gained putting in the 2021 PGA Tour season. As only the top 125 automatically keep their full Tour playing privileges, it’s clear that a whole lot of players who can’t regularly beat Bradley still putt it better than he does.

Here’s the thing, though: Bradley was 45th on the Tour money list. His elite ball-striking and resourceful short game carry him well enough to overcome some of his putting troubles. Bradley finished tied for 13th in 2019 when this event was played at this same venue against a stronger field. Given the comparative weakness of this week’s field, Bradley has to be thinking about a big payday.

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Pick to Win the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP: Hideki Matsuyama (+1200)

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Matsuyama is, quite obviously, the best Japanese golfer in this field. Less obvious is that, to an extent, this tournament represents an opportunity for a sort of redemption for Matsuyama, who did not medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games (he was in the seven-man playoff for the bronze that C.T. Pan won).

The reigning Masters champion has been relatively quiet since winning the green jacket in April, but he tied for sixth at the Fortinet Championship in September and, more importantly for our purposes, finished second alone at this event at this venue in 2019. Matsuyama lost to Woods, who as we know is not playing this time around. Matsuyama has a brilliant opportunity to win a Tour event on his home soil, and does not figure to squander it.

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