ZOZO Championship: Birdies to drop once the wind and rain stop

Golfer Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama - looking to figure in his homeland again

The PGA Tour visits Japan for the first time this week but with plenty of wind and rain forecasted, our man's taking it easy before the off. Read Steve's thoughts on the brand-new ZOZO Championship here...

"With the course sodden and the wind non-existent, the tournament should develop into a very low scoring affair over the weekend and making up ground from off the pace will be really tough."

Tournament History

This is the inaugural staging of the ZOZO Championship, an event co-sanctioned between the PGA Tour and the Japan Tour and it's the very first time a PGA Tour event has been staged in Japan.

Venue

Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, Inzai, Chiba, Japan.

Course Details

Par 70, 7041 yards

Narashino CC is a 36-hole facility. The ZOZO Championship will played on a composite course with five par threes ranging from the 141-yard 13th to the 191-yard fifth. The longest of the three par fives is the 608-yard 14th and the 18th is a par five measuring 562 yards.

Golf courses of some age in Japan were built with two greens on every hole. At the time, it was a solution to present different strains of healthy grass no matter what the season but today bentgrass blankets most greens.

Narashino opened in 1965 with two greens per hole and they remain today. Those utilized for the ZOZO Championship will be set to run at 11.5 on the stimpmeter. To honor the tradition of two greens in Japan, both the A and B greens on the par-4 fourth hole will be used at some point during the tournament and it's possible that another hole or holes also will use alternate greens.

If a golfer lands on the incorrect green, the "wrong green" local rule will be enforced. It will allow the golfer relief off the green no closer the hole. No penalty will be assessed.

The course is tree-lined and fairly narrow and the greens look smaller than average.

Various videos can be found on YouTube but this course tour from the PGA Tour gives a perfectly good view of what the field will encounter.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports form 4.00 on Thursday morning.

Is There any Angles In?

Form at the Club de Golf Chapultepec, home of the WGC-Mexico Championship, may be of some use. That too is a tree-lined venue away from home for the vast majority of the field but that really is just a hunch.

Par 3 Scoring Average might be a stat to ponder given 20 of the 72 holes played will be short ones but again, that's hardly a concrete angle in and maybe the only thing we know for certain is the state of the course and the weather forecast (see below).

In-Play Tactics

They've had plenty of rain in the lead up and we're due more during the event. It's forecasted to be a particularly poor day on Friday, with lots of wind and rain, but the weather clears up after that and the wind drops.

At the time of writing, an earlier tee time on Friday may be beneficial and I'll keep an eye on the forecasts to see if that's extenuated further but equally, it's possible that the forecast changes and there's no advantage at all. What we do know, is that Friday, in particular, looks tough.

Given the forecast, it makes sense to wait until the halfway stage and then to largely concentrate on the leaders. With the course sodden and the wind non-existent, the tournament should develop into a very low scoring affair over the weekend and making up ground from off the pace will be really tough.

Market Leaders

Justin Thomas' strike rate is phenomenal and it's quite tempting just to play him again, having collected in Korea last week, but a couple of factors put me off. He only ranked 68th for Par 3 Scoring in Korea last week and I just wonder how hard he celebrated the win with his family in tow. His dad turned 60 in the week before Thomas' win and I suspect there were double celebrations that followed Sunday's success.

He's almost the same price as he was last week in a weaker field event around a track he'd already won at so he can't be perceived as value to go back-to-back.

Rory McIlroy is at his very best in soft conditions and he has the advantage of having playied the course on Monday when he took on Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day in a skins match, won by Day. If the rain was due to stop on Wednesday and benign conditions were forecasted from Thursday onwards, I'd be backing the Irishman at 10.09/1 with relish but I'm not prepared to do so with such horrid conditions in the pipeline.

After his third-place finish in Korea on Sunday and his experience of the venue on Monday, home hero, Hideki Matsuyama, has to be considered a strong candidate, especially given his fine record on home soil, where he has an 18% strike rate. He's played in his homeland 44 times up to now and he often gives a good account of himself, finishing inside the top-five on 17 occasions.

Selection

With no real knowledge of the venue, and an unsettled weather forecast for the first two days, I'm more than happy to have the tiniest of token bets before the off and to save my powder for the in-play.

I've had a very small bet on last week's runner-up, Danny Lee, just because he loks big given how incredibly well he played out of the blue but I'll be back with the In-Play Blog on Thursday if I make a move after round one or on Friday if I decide to wait until the halfway stage.

Selection:
Danny Lee @ 170.0169/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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