The Fall Swing on the PGA TOUR heads across the Pacific this week for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, which will be played back in Japan for the second straight year after having to move stateside in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. A dramatic fall of golf continued last week when Tom Kim ($9,700) beat out Patrick Cantlay on the final hole when Cantlay sent his tee shot into the waste area and ended up with a triple bogey.
This week, there’s no desert to worry about, but Narashino Country Club will present its own challenges. It hosted the ZOZO in 2018 when Tiger Woods won the inaugural event and again last year when Japan’s own Hideki Matsuyama ($10,400) finished 15-under par and won by a comfortable five-stroke margin. One thing that makes this week’s tournament unique is that the time difference lands much of the tournament squarely in prime time on Wednesday and Thursday night. The ending usually takes place early Sunday morning.
Another thing that makes this event unique is the format. It’s a 78-man field this week with no cut, meaning all golfers will play four rounds barring injury or withdrawal. Since all the players will get four rounds of scoring, the differential between the golfers at the top of the leaderboard and those who are at the bottom isn’t quite as vast. In this format, I tend to lean more towards “stars and scrubs” constructions and target players with big upside. In GPP tournaments, it’s even more important than normal to chase lower ownership projections to differentiate your lineup. You’ll see this strategy reflected in my picks below.
The course itself is a beautiful parkland layout that plays as a par-70, with five par 3s and three par 5s, including the closing hole. It was originally designed by renowned Japanese course architects Kinya Fujita and Seiichi Inoue. Their work is known for its long, curving bunkers, and Narashino in particular is notable for the fact that it has two greens on each hole. While we don’t have a ton of historical data, what we have seen in the past two events here is that iron play is paramount, and leaning into SG: Approach and SG: Around-The-Green as much as possible usually pays off.
The field this week is led by two players in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings, Xander Schauffele ($10,800) and Collin Morikawa ($10,200). Several other players who have stepped into the spotlight over the past few weeks are back in action including Mackenzie Hughes ($7,600) who won at the Sanderson Farms Championship and Tom Kim looking to win in back-to-back weeks.
There are also lots of players from the Presidents Cup including Cameron Young from the US Team and Sungjae Im ($10,000), Kim, Corey Conners ($9,000), K.H. Lee ($7,900), Christiaan Bezuidenhout ($8,000), Cam Davis ($8,500), Si Woo Kim ($8,800), Mito Pereira ($8,300) and Sebastian Munoz ($8,100) are all in the field from the international team. Other recognizable names in the field include Cameron Champ ($6,800), Rickie Fowler ($7,400), Viktor Hovland ($9,500) and Tommy Fleetwood ($9,200).
In this weekly post, the focus is players who are strong plays in GPP contests. These contests usually have lots of entries and pay out big prizes to the top few percent. One example is the DraftKings $300 K Pitch + Putt which pays out $100K to the winner. In large contests like this one, it is critical to try and target players who have a chance to outperform salary expectations.
The players highlighted will be good options if they deliver in all formats, but they typically aren’t the safest plays, which should be the focus of lineups in cash and double-up contests where finishing in the very top spot isn’t quite as important.
To help pinpoint the top options for all formats each week, be sure to use the FantasyLabs PGA Models, which use stats and simulations to highlight different players’ strengths and weaknesses. A couple of key new stats to specifically use for GPP play are Perfect% and SimLeverage, which are further explained here.
For the most part, I prefer the Stroked Gained Model, which is very predictive of results. I also tend to lean into players that gain shots on approach since week-to-week putting performance is volatile.
As you dig into the numbers, you can enjoy the many tools that FantasyLabs offers, including the Lineup Optimizer which effortlessly create up to 150 lineups. Alternatively, you can use the Lineup Builder if you prefer a more hands-on approach.
Check out my top picks in each price range listed below.
High-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Collin Morikawa $10,200
Like last week, the very top of the player pool in Xander Schauffele ($10,800), Hideki Matsuyama ($10,400), Sungjae Im ($10,000) and Tom Kim ($9,700) is projected to have very high ownership, all checking in over 20%. To get some leverage, I love targeting Morikawa, who checks in around 13% projected ownership and a tasty 80% leverage mark.
The reason that some may be down on Morikawa is that he has had some rough results recently, missing the cut at The Open and not making much noise in the FedExCup Playoffs. It is worth noting, though, that he posted a trio of top-five finishes at the U.S. Open, The Masters, and the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
Even when he has struggled, it has been with the putter more than his irons, which remain the strength of his game. He leads the field in SG: Approach over the past 75 weeks and has finished in the top 25 in both of the previous ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIPs held at this track.
His ceiling is always extremely high if his putting is even average, and he should be very motivated to put a winless season behind him and start this season off with a win in Japan.
Viktor Hovland $9,500
No golfer in the entire field has a higher rating in the Strokes Gained Model than Hovland, who is a wizard with his irons when he’s in top form. He does struggle around the greens and with sand saves at times, but he also doesn’t have to recover often when he’s knocking it close on most holes.
Since posting top-35 finishes in each of the three FedExCup Playoff tournaments, Hovland played two events in Europe, posting a T5 at the BMW PGA Championship and a T34 in the Italian Open.
No golfer with a lower salary than Hovland has a higher ceiling projection than the 25-year-old Norwegian, who has proven he can hang with the toughest fields in the sport when he’s at his best and is well-traveled and comfortable at a wide variety of international venues.
Mid-Priced PGA DFS Picks
Tom Hoge $8,600
Hope is in my picks for a second straight week after posting a strong T4 last week at the Shriners Children’s Open. He also finished in the top 15 at the Fortinet Championship, the TOUR Championship, and the 3M Open over the past three months. Those strong results come as a result of great iron play, and he posted an eye-popping 7.0 SG: Approach last week in Vegas.
Hoge did make the trip to Narashino last season and finished 17th, using a four-under weekend to overcome a two-over opening round.
He’s one of just three players under $9,000 in the top 10 in Perfect% this week and has the fifth-best SimLeverage in the field.
Mito Pereira $8,300
One of the other players tied with Hoge in fourth last week was Pereira, who actually led the tournament after the second round and finished the week with the best mark in the field in SG: Approach and was second in SG: Tee-to-Green. It was the latest in a nice bounce-back for Pereira who looked great this spring but slumped during the summer with four straight missed cuts.
Pereira is one of just six players in the field who have averaged over 2.0 SG: Approach over the past 75 weeks, and he is the only one in that elite group priced under $9,500. He also has the fourth-highest ceiling projection of all players under $9K.
Value PGA DFS Picks
Matthew NeSmith $7,800
NeSmith is another iron specialist I like a lot this week. He has posted over 6.0 SG: Approach in his two most recent events, finishing T9 at the Sanderson Farms Championship and T2 at the Shriners Children’s Open.
Last week in Las Vegas, he played the final 66 holes without a bogey on his way to leading the field in SG: Tee-to-Green. Only three players under $8,000 have a higher ceiling projection than NeSmith this week as he looks to continue his hot start to the season.
Rickie Fowler $7,400
Fowler has the highest rating in the Strokes Gained Model of any player under $8K. He does have a low floor, but for GPP, it’s hard to overlook his upside.
He missed the cut last week in Vegas but posted a T6 at the Fortinet Championship earlier this fall. In both of those tournaments, he had a SG: Approach over 2.0 and has also been rolling the ball better with the flat stick. He also ranks in the top 10 in the field in SG: Around-The-Green over the past 50 rounds and seems to be rounding back into the form that once had him considered one of the top young players in the game before struggling over the past few seasons.
Sleeper PGA DFS Picks
David Lipsky $6,800
Lipsky has the highest ceiling projection of any player under $7K by a wide margin and also comes with the highest floor projection and best median projection. He comes with a 73% leverage and 1.34% SimLeverage.
In the past 75 rounds, Lipsky posted .7221 SG: Approach which is the fourth-best mark of any player under $7K.
After a pair of missed cuts to start the season, Lipsky finished T44 at the Shriners where a rough Saturday kept him out of the top 25. While his putting still looked a little rough, he finished with 6.4 Shots Gained:Tee-to-Green in Vegas and could be in line for a better finish if he carries over that iron play to Japan this week.
Tomoharu Otsuki $6,200
If you’re looking for a play at the cheap end of the salary spectrum, who could make some noise coming out of nowhere, check out Otsuki. He will be playing in just his second PGA TOUR event with the other also coming at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP last season. He finished T35 in that contest, which is about smack in the middle of this limited field.
Since then, the 32-year-old has had a very good season on the Japan Golf Tour and caught fire this fall. Before finishing in the middle of the pack last week, he piled up four straight top-10 finishes including a win at the ANA Open in September at the Sapporo Golf Club.
He piled up seven top-10 finishes this year on the Japan Golf Tour, and he has the second-highest ceiling projection of all the players under $7K as a result.
He also matches six of the Pro Trends.