THE PGA Tour moves to Japan for this week’s Zozo Championship, and with most of the American stars showing their usual reluctance to travel abroad, the field is much weaker than the one that contested the CJ Cup in Vegas.
The coronavirus restrictions meant it was played at Sherwood Country Club in California last year, so that form is a bit misleading.
And when Tiger Woods won two years ago, pushing local hero Hideki Matsuyama into second, the line-up was a lot stronger.
Open champion Collin Morikawa and Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele – who obviously showed a liking for Japan a couple of months ago – dispute favouritism.
And after they shot 62 and 63 respectively on Sunday – with Morikawa finishing just a shot behind Rory McIlroy and Schauffele hitting form after a slow start – it is easy to see why they have their supporters.
But this is a very different test, and it is the sort of event that could easily throw up a long priced winner.
Talor Gooch did each way backers a favour at big odds last week, and this trio could do the same.
Hot shot: Kyoung-Hoon Lee, 40-1.
The Korean star has climbed more than 200 places up the world rankings this year to a career high of 57th, and he looks sure to break the top fifty soon.
His breakthrough win at the Byron Nelson earlier this year showed he has made the adjustment to American-style golf – but it is his background as a Japan Golf Tour regular that makes him a tempting proposition this time.
Lee won twice in Japan and was runner-up three times before deciding to switch to the second tier Kraft Tour in the states five years ago, and fight for his PGA Tour card. He is hungry and ambitious, as well as experienced in these conditions.
Mid price: Harry Higgs, 66-1.
Higgs is one of those players who has been knocking on the door for a first PGA Tour win for a while, but is still waiting to go one better after a couple of runner-up finishes in the last two years.
I thought he might have made the winner’s circle by now after his impressive display in claiming a share of fourth at this year’s USPGA Championship, easily his best effort in the Majors.
But I’m not ready to give up on him yet, especially in a field like this. Only a sloppy third round 70 – sandwiched by a 64 and a couple of 67s, kept him from finishing a lot higher than ninth in much better company last weekend.
Long shot: Ryosuke Kinoshita, 150-1
Apart from Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, the local players performed abysmally when the PGA Tour came calling for the first time in 2019, but they should not be over-awed this time.
And Kinoshita’s odds look too big as a double winner in his home land this year. And throw in his status as Japan’s second highest player on the world rankings, even though he is only 72nd – which is still a career high.
He is on a hot streak at the moment, with two third places and three other top ten finishes in his last six starts.
His latest near-miss came in the Japan Open, the Tour’s showpiece event, and he is worth an interest at these odds.
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