ZOZO Championship @ Sherwood: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Tiger Woods makes his first start since the U.S. Open this week, as he looks to successfully defend the ZOZO Championship and pick up a record 83rd PGA Tour victory. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For the second week in a row, we’re flying naked again here at your friendly fantasy headquarters. Sorry if that created a disturbing image but the ZOZO Championship departed its home of Japan for a year and found temporary digs at Sherwood CC this year. While we always dig the California vibe, we’re forced to forecast the field on a course unfamiliar to roughly 90 percent of the 78-man field.

They’re battling for $8 million in a no-cut tournament on a layout designed by Jack Nicklaus that played host to Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge from 2000-2013 (read more about his gaudy record in the event below). Many of the participants in those 18-man silly season money-grabs have moved onward to the Champions Tour or broadcast booth. Some have simply seen their skills slip away in time as a new wave of young guns assumed command of professional golf. Oh, by the way, Tiger won his 82nd PGA Tour title at the 2019 ZOZO.

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What the field will find is a pristine layout, bentgrass, wall-to-wall. The fairways are narrow in places and the undulating greens can push the Stimpmeter into the teens. There are five par 5s and five par 3s on the 7,073-yard, par-72 layout. There are 51 bunkers and water comes into play on eight holes. Think precision over power this week. Similar to last week, finding the right quadrant of the greens is important. Each of these events serves as good preparation for the little invitational in Georgia next month.

Betcha Advertisement Players can hit less than driver off several tees and there are ample birdie opportunities, so I paid attention to bogey avoidance, in addition to par-3 and par-5 scoring. The same skills that worked well last week should send a player to the cash window in California. Now, about those taxes.

As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

20. Hideki Matsuyama​ – Steady and solid with four top 25s in his last five starts. Hard to put too much faith in a man who ranks last in the field in SG: Putting over the last 12 rounds, however.

19. Matthew Fitzpatrick​ – Sherwood could remind Fitzpatrick of Wentworth. He was T-7 there two weeks ago and T-12 in Las Vegas last week. Looking for fourth top 6 since late July. Precision player gained 4.9 strokes on approach last week and should enjoy the course setup.

18. Patrick Reed​ – Finished T-7 in the Tour Championship (based on 72-hole score), 13th in the U.S. Open and T-3 in the BMW PGA in his last three starts. Game is rounding into form as he eyes a second green jacket in the last three years.

17. Rory McIlroy – ​Rusty with irons and short game last week at Shadow Creek, his first start since the U.S. Open, but still managed a T-21. Rest assured he wants to have everything sorted out before he arrives at Augusta.

16. Viktor Hovland – ​Gained strokes from the tee box to the greens last week at Shadow Creek in a T-12. Top 10 in the field in SG: Approach over the last 12 rounds. Chipping is improving and he’s been better than the field average putting in five of the last six starts.

15. Harris English​ – Has finished outside the top 25 three times since February and leads the field in SG: Around-the-Green over the last 12 rounds. Tied for second in par-3 scoring (2.94) in 2019-20. There’s no substitute for confidence and no holes in his game.

14. Lanto Griffin​ – Has been below average off the tee in six of the last eight tournaments but iron game and putting were on point last week in a T-7 at Shadow Creek. Tee shots at Sherwood reward placement over power, conditions and demands are similar this week, so expect another strong showing.

13. Tony Finau​ – After withdrawing from both tournaments in Las Vegas (tested positive for COVID-19 prior to Shriners), returns to pro golf for the first time since a T-8 at Winged Foot, which was his third top 10 in five starts. Could manhandle the five par 5s – made birdie or better on half the ones he played in 2019-20.

12. Russell Henley​ – Liked him last week, he delivered and it’s unwise to fade a hot golfer. Continued pinpoint iron play at Shadow Creek, gaining at least 1.6 strokes on approach for the ninth consecutive tournament, and sizzled on the greens with his best performance since winning the 2017 Shell Houston Open.

11. Patrick Cantlay​ – Expected more from Cantlay in the two Vegas tournaments (T-8 Shriners, T-38 CJ Cup) but the Californian should thrive in L.A. and on bentgrass, easily his favorite grass to putt. Short game is on an upward trend.

10. Tiger Woods​ – If an uneventful year is going to catch fire, there’s no better place than Sherwood CC. Woods finished in the top 2 in 10 of 12 years here during his Hero World Challenge from 2002-2013, recording a 68.4 stroke average. Although iron play hasn’t met his high standards, has still gained shots on approach in his last seven events.

9. Bubba Watson​ – 2nd in SG: Tee-to-Green and 4th in SG: Approach last week at Shadow Creek in finishing T-7. No cut this week of course, but he’s played four rounds in his last six tournaments and while the putter has been fickle, a course with five par 5s should suit his game.

8. Jon Rahm​ – Landed in the top25 for the seventh time in eight tournaments at the CJ Cup and his driving is reminiscent of another Spaniard, Sergio Garcia. Rahm has gained at least 1.2 strokes off the tee in 17 consecutive tournaments. Not the most critical stat this week, but impressive nonetheless. Can put it all together at any moment.

7. Joaquin Niemann​ – In his third week with new caddie Gary Matthews aims to build on strong performance at Shadow Creek, where he hit 76.4 percent of the greens in regulation. Has gained at least 2.2 strokes putting in each of the last three tournaments and finished top 25 in four of the last five events.

6. Tyrrell Hatton​ – Won at Wentworth two weeks ago. Finished third at Shadow Creek, leading the field in proximity (23’ 9”) and gaining 3.4 strokes on the greens. Top 5 in par-3 scoring on the PGA Tour last season. Slight concern he’ll run out of juice this week, still he’s No. 9 in the world rankings and peaking toward Augusta.

5. Collin Morikawa – ​Knows his way around Sherwood CC and his immaculate iron play rarely rests – he’s fourth in the field in SG: Approach over the last 12 rounds. Bentgrass is his best surface. Lost two strokes on the greens at Shadow Creek and still finished T-12.

4. Xander Schauffele​ – Over the last 24 rounds he’s putted better than anybody in the field. Iron play is also trending upward, which is how he’s produced three consecutive top 5s against outstanding competition. Californian would love to bounce back into the winner’s circle in his home state.

3. Matthew Wolff – ​Nobody in the field is more familiar with Sherwood CC than Wolff, who grew up less than 10 miles away. Hobbled by an ankle injury last week. If he’s healthy, his course knowledge will be a huge advantage. Leads the field in SG: Approach over last 12 rounds.

2. Webb Simpson – ​Only player to rank top 10 in par-3 and par-5 scoring on the PGA Tour in 2019-20. Elite wedge game, sharp golf brain and putter that can attain nuclear heat levels with any stroke make him a consistent threat worthy of his top 10 in the world ranking. He’s likely to extend his streak of top-15 finishes to six tournaments and claim a third victory in 2020.

1. Justin Thomas​ – I’ve said it before, but nobody can play poorly better than Thomas. He scuffled about on the slick Shadow Creek greens, didn’t drive his ball particularly well, closed with 74 and still tied for 12th. Has four PGA Tour victories in the fall.

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