Punter’s pointers: Who will emulate Tiger Woods and win the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP?

The field returns to Narashino Country Club in Japan after last year’s relocation to Sherwood Country Club in California.

"Things are easy when you're big in Japan."

So sang Alphaville and two years ago, when the PGA Tour made a first visit to the country, it was the case for Tiger Woods as well.

He rocked up to the Narashino Country Club, warned that his game might be a week away from top grade, hit the first tee, and never looked back.

His Thursday 64 left him tied for the lead, a repeat score in the second round left him two clear of the field, a third lap of 66 increased his advantage to three, and a 67 converted the triumph.

It was his 82nd win on the PGA Tour, tying Sam Snead for the all-time best total, and it might well be his last, too, after his car accident earlier this year.

Last year the tournament was unable to return to the far east, instead spending a week at Sherwood Country Club in California where Patrick Cantlay laid the foundations of his FedExCup winning season.

Whose name will join Woods' and Cantlay's on the trophy?

Let's take a closer look at a few angles.

The stats

Back in 2019 the not-too-secret recipe for success was hitting lots of greens and holing putts.

Winner Woods ranked third for GIR and second for Putt Average, runner-up Matsuyama was seventh and first.

Let's keep it simple. Who in this week's field ranked top 20 for those two categories last season (this year's rankings are a small sample)?

GIR: Emiliano Grillo, Matthew Nesmith, Collin Morikawa, Keegan Bradley, Kyle Stanley, Doug Ghim, Will Zalatoris.

PA: Harry Higgs, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Tringale, Tom Hoge, Collin Morikawa.

Only one man is in both lists - Collin Morikawa.

What else do we know of his chances? He's in great form (blistering last week for three of four rounds when second behind only the winner Rory McIlroy), he has Japanese heritage, he's a two-time Major Champion, and he played well at the Olympics (tied third). He's got a great chance.

The home challenge

This might be a PGA Tour event, but there are plenty of Japanese Tour competitors in the field and they have a huge incentive to do well this week.

A victory might be beyond them, but a good effort is definitely not.

Takumi Kanaya might be the man among them with most promise at the highest level.

The 23-year-old was at the top of the World Amateur Rankings for 55 weeks ahead of joining the paid ranks last year.

He'd already won a professional event at that stage, added another in November, and a third in April. He's made the top 20 in each of his last seven starts.

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Ryosuke Kinoshita became something of a cult figure in the Open at Royal St George's this summer and he'll be keen to revive memories of the cut he made there.

He's made the top 10 in five of his last six starts.

Scott Vincent is a Zimbabwean golfer based on the Japanese circuit and he's in the best form of all the 'home' raiders.

He won in both August and September, and has not finished outside the top 20 in nine starts.

He played five times in the last 12 months on the European Tour, landing top 20s at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, South African Open and, back in Japan, at the Olympics.

Or maybe just keep it simple and back the nation's golfing hero?!

The Firestone factor

Firestone Country Club, the old home of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, was tree-lined and a fine test of ball control - good driving was particularly rewarded.

Does that sound familiar? It pretty much describes the field's description of the test at Narashino two years ago.

Moreover, the leaderboard two years ago backed up the notion that the two tracks might examine similar skill sets.

Winner Woods was an eight-time champion at Bridgestone, runner-up Hideki Matsuyama and Rory McIlroy in third were both winners there too (the man who shared third with McIlroy, Sungjae Im, never played at Firestone).

But it goes further.

Keegan Bradley and Shane Lowry were T13th at Narashino - they're two more past winners at Firestone.

And Ryan Palmer at T10th? He's finished second and third at Firestone.

Who might that favour this week? Matsuyama, Bradley and Palmer return.

Can Rickie Fowler maintain his form from last week? He was a runner-up at Firestone.

And straight out of left-field so, too, was Kyle Stanley who is out of form, but who hits a lot of greens in regulation.

McIlroy's insight

Two years ago Rory McIlroy, who tends to be a decent reader of a golfing examination, said: "It's a great course, in great condition, the greens are so pure, and it sort of reminds me a little bit of the course we play in Mexico, Chapultepec.

"Yeah, reminds me a little bit of that, just sort of the tree lined and sort of the doglegs and having to sort of cut off corners."

Might that spell good news for South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen?

He finished third at Chapultepec in 2020 and he has other factors in his favour.

Tree-lined course? He came closest to making his European Tour breakthrough at Randpark and Royal Dar es Salam, then did win at The Hills - all tree-lined.

The Zoysia grass? Dar has it and so do many courses in his homeland.

Asian form? He was a winner in China on the Challenge Tour.

Form? He's finished top 25 in five of his last seven starts, a run that started with his first PGA Tour victory in the Barracuda Championship.

READ MORE: Rory McIlroy's 20 PGA Tour wins: From the breakthrough in 2010 to THE CJ CUP last week

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