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PGA DFS (DraftKings): Horse For The Course - ZOZO Championship


Welcome back RotoBallers and PGA DFS fans! Last week's 'Horse' Justin Thomas came away with the win at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges. It's always a great feeling when we can nail a winner here for you guys! In addition to Thomas, we also highlighted Cam Smith who scored a T3 finish at Nine Bridges.

JT wasn't exactly a "going out on a limb" choice last week, as he headed into the week with the type of trending form/course history combination that we're always looking to target in this article. Still, it's always nice to be on the winner and - as we so well know - being the highest-priced player on DraftKings offers no guarantee of victory, and I think the win speaks volumes about the type of motivation and drive that Thomas is playing with at the moment.

Unfortunately, the rest of last week's featured players didn't fare as well as JT and Smith at the CJ Cup. It's a good reminder that although these are 'official' PGA Tour events, tournaments like the CJ Cup are tough to get right from a DFS perspective due to their international locations, slot on the calendar, and no-cut formats. We get exactly that type of tournament again this week for the second leg of the 'Asia Swing' in the ZOZO Championship. Let's dive in!

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ZOZO Championship Overview

Golf has been extremely popular for years in Japan and this week the PGA Tour will hold its first-ever official event in the country. The ZOZO Championship should be a great introduction to the PGA Tour for Japan, as the tournament has a field that is truly star-studded.

Tiger Woods will be making his first start since his season ended in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He'll be joined by some of the games biggest stars, with last week's winner Justin Thomas, recent FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy, and hometown favorite Hideki Matsuyama all scheduled to tee it up in the Zozo Championship. We'll also get to see stars like Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Jason Day, and Jordan Spieth giving it a go in Japan.

Like last week's CJ Cup, this event is almost a 'WGC-Lite' tournament...there's a limited field of 78 (with 10 players from the Japan Tour included) and no cut, which means a nice paycheck for everyone teeing it up. Similar to last week, we can lean more aggressive in our DFS lineup construction with four rounds being guaranteed for everyone. Unlike last week, we have no course history to evaluate, which forces us to make some guesses and assumptions about how this course will play.

You can also find out who the smart money is on by checking out Spencer Aguiar's PGA DFS: Vegas Report every week.

 

The Course: Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club

Par 70 - 7,041 Yards, Greens: Bent
Opened in 1965, Narashino is one of the most highly-regarded golf clubs in Japan. Fairly short by modern standards at just over 7,000 yards, this is a fairly tight, tree-lined layout that's popular throughout Japan. Players will face multiple doglegs and water hazards when making the loop, while fairway and greenside bunkers offer some protection for this shortish course. With the doglegs and tight conditions, we will see lots of players hitting irons off the tee this week, which basically takes distance out of the equation for me for DFS purposes. The greens are bentgrass and some of these holes even have two greens (!) in order to give tournament officials some options when setting up the course each round...which is not something we see every day. In the absence of course history, I like to lean in the direction of strong ball strikers that are solid tee to green. This week's layout should demand accuracy and precision both off the tee and on approach shots, which puts players that consistently hit fairways and greens in my sights. I will probably be focusing on putting a bit more than usual this week, as the greens have some tricky undulations.

 

The Horse

Hideki Matsuyama (DK - $10,700)

Notable Course History: None

Like last week's 'Horse' Justin Thomas, going with Hideki Matsuyama here isn't exactly a wild and crazy choice, but hey...sometimes using a little common sense, makes a lot of sense. We of course have the 'homegrown Japanese player' narrative in full force with Hideki this week, but that's honestly not why I like him so much here (if anything, I feel like 'hometown' situations only add pressure - ie. Rory at the Open). No, my interest in Matsuyama is due to his trending form and what should be a great course fit.

The Japanese superstar has gotten progressively better with each start this fall, going from a missed cut in his first 'Swing Season' start at the Safeway, to a T16 outing at the Shriners, that led up to a strong T3 result at Nine Bridges last week. Matuyama is third in the ZOZO field in GIR's over his last 12 rounds and routinely grades out as one of the best iron players on the PGA Tour year after year.

I'm torn with how folks will roster Hideki this week...I think a lot of people will want to roster him, because this event is in Japan, but I also feel like his $10,700 price tag will give many of those players pause. The knock on Matsuyama is that he doesn't win enough - and it's a fair take - but this is lining up almost as a storybook-type spot for Hideki to grab his first win in a long time.

 

The Ponies

Justin Thomas (DK - $11,800)

Notable Course History: None

It seems like the popular current thinking in PGA DFS is: "Never play a guy the week after a win." While I don't totally disagree with that line, it definitely isn't set in stone and is something that we can sometimes use to our advantage. So, while most people will completely ignore Justin Thomas because he won at Nine Bridges, I'm totally comfortable going right back to the well on a guy that is probably the hottest player in the world right now.

Thomas leads this elite field in Strokes Gained: Total over his last 12 rounds and has the type of game that translates well to any course. We've seen him go on winning binges before (often around this late-summer/early-fall time of year) during his career, with him winning multiple times in a one to three month span, including back-to-back victories at the 2017 Tournament of Champions and Sony Open. So...under normal circumstances I'm totally fine ignoring the guy that won the previous week, but I'm eager to get JT in my lineups once again in this spot.

 

Matthew Fitzpatrick (DK - $9,000)

Notable Course History: None

The young Englishman hasn't been highlighted many times in the history of HFTC, but I really like this spot for Matthew Fitzpatrick. He made a little noise on the PGA Tour last season with strong outings at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-St. Jude, but Fitz has always played better when off U.S. soil. American fans might not realize it, but the 25-year-old already has five victories on the European Tour in his young career and has especially flourished in Asia, logging two top-10s at the HSBC Champions event that's held in China and a runner-up finish in last year's Hong Kong Open. Fitzpatrick heads to Japan on the heels of a runner-up outing at the Italian Open two weeks ago and profiles to be a nice course fit on a week where distance should take a back seat to precision, accuracy, and scrambling ability - the hallmarks of his game. Low ownership on Fitz is almost a guarantee with his "too high at first glance" $9k price tag, which makes him an intriguing contrarian play in GPPs this week.

 

Adam Hadwin (DK - $8,100)

Notable Course History: None

I expect Adam Hadwin to be a popular play this week, but his recent form is almost impossible to ignore. The Canadian has recorded top-five finishes in both of his fall starts at the Safeway and Shriners. He should be a great fit on this tight-ish layout, as he stands first in this week's field in Fantasy National's Good Drives Gained metric and second in GIRs Gained over his last 12 rounds. He brings both hot irons and a hot putter to Japan, ranking seventh in SG: Putting and Three-Putt Avoidance, while gaining strokes on the greens in his last four starts. If his ownership projections get too high, you can consider a calculated fade in large-field GPPs, but he should be a staple in cash-game lineups this week with his current form and affordable price.

 

Ryan Moore (DK - $7,800)

Notable Course History: None

Fair warning here: I never seem to get Ryan Moore right, so I'm never extremely comfortable when recommending him, but I really like how he lines up for Narashino CC this week. We know he's a precise ball striker and the numbers bear that out: first in in the field in Fairways Gained, ninth in Good Drives Gained, and 11th in SG: Approach. Like the aforementioned Matthew Fitzpatrick, Moore's game has translated well to this part of the world, as he's twice won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. We're always a bit concerned about Moore's lack of putting skills, but three of his five professional victories have come on Bentgrass greens and he's putted well in his last two starts which have resulted in a T13 at the Shriners and a top-10 last week at Nine Bridges. There's a chance Moore could go a bit overlooked at $7.8k, as lots of players will be leaning towards 'Stars & Scrubs' roster builds this week.

 

Andrew Putnam (DK - $7,400)

Notable Course History: None

He's not flashy, but Andrew Putnam might just be my favorite dollar-for-dollar play on the board this week. He heads to Japan fresh off top-20 finishes in his last two starts, while just missing that mark with a T21 at the BMW PGA Championship in Europe in September. Putnam is a tremendous putter and ranks fourth in this field in SG: Putting over his last 12 rounds. He's also incredibly accurate off the tee and stands ninth in Fairways Gained, as well as gaining 1.2 strokes on approach over his last five tournaments. Like I said, he's not necessarily an exciting player to roster...but fairways, greens, and a hot putter will take us places this week.

 

Graeme McDowell (DK - $6,800)

Notable Course History: None

We're going to round things out down in the sub-$7k price range with Graeme McDowell, another player that might not get our blood pumping, but one that has a chance to play very well at Narashino. I had some success with G-Mac last season, but I'm the first to admit that he's streaky and often tough to peg...however I think we are catching the Ulsterman trending in the right direction this week. His ball striking numbers from his last two starts at the Italian Open and CJ Cup won't show up in stat engines (so his recent numbers look pretty damn bad), but McDowell has played well his last couple of times out, finishing inside the top 16 at both Olgiata and Nine Bridges. If you want to get aggressive at the top of the salary scale this week with a JT, Rory, or Hideki; you'll probably need to dip down to a couple of players in this price range and G-Mac should fly under the radar heading into the ZOZO.

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