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The best picks, strategies, and predictions for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP by PGA expert Tom Jacobs as he previews it here and gives his top picks for the leader after the first round.

ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP First Round Leader Predictions and Picks: Finding Value on Cameron Tringale

Let’s take a look at the First Round Leader market for this week’s ZOZO Championship.

With an early start time for the event this week (Wednesday 7:30 pm ET), please ensure you get your bets on right away.



How do we go about spotting value in the First Round Leader markets then?

Well, this tends to change week-to-week depending on weather and course conditions. Still, we tend to target early tee times when playing Stateside. That seems to give players an edge as they’re out in generally calm conditions, with the best greens and smaller crowds unless in a marquee group, giving them a chance to string together their round in peace.

With a shorter window between tee times here, as there are only 78 players in the field, all golfers will go out in the morning, and last time we played at this course, both Gary Woodland and Tiger Woods, who shared the First Round Lead went out at fairly different times, and off different tees. Woodland went out at 9:50 am (local) on Wednesday, which was the second-to-last group out on the first tee, while Woods went out at 8:40 am (local), which was fifth out on the 10th tee out of thirteen groups.

The next best behind Woodland and Woods was Hideki Matsuyama, whose first-round 65 came when two groups were earlier than Woodland on the first tee. The trio of Ryan Palmer, Sung Kang, and Daniel Berger all shot 67’s, with Kang the fourth group out off the 1st tee, Berger the third group out on the 10th tee, and Palmer the tenth group (of thirteen) out on the 10th tee. With such a mix of what tee they started on and the times the players went out, I don’t think there we learned anything significant here about what to target in those areas.

Who started fast on Tour last season?

Here’s the top-10 of those in this field in terms of Round 1 Scoring Average from last season. I think it’s too early to put any stock into this year’s stats, with some players making just their first or second starts of the new season here, so we will use last year as a metric.

  • Cameron Tringale (3rd overall in 2020/21 season - Scoring Average 69.23) - Low Opening Round - (65 RSM Classic 2020)
  • Xander Schauffele (7th overall in 2020/21 season - Scoring Average 69.50) Low Opening Round - 66 (CJ Cup 2020 and Waste Management 2021)
  • Keegan Bradley (T13 overall in 2020/21 season - Scoring Average 69.65) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Valspar Championship)
  • Joaquin Niemann (18th overall in 2020/21 season - Scoring Average 69.69) - Low Opening Round - 62 (Sony Open 2021)
  • Chis Kirk (19th overall in 2020/21 season – Scoring Average 69.72) – Low Opening Round – 64 (Wyndham Championship 2021)
  • Doug Ghim (20th overall in 2020/21 season - Scoring Average 69.77) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Bermuda Championship 2021)
  • Harold Varner III (T26 overall in 2020/21 season - Scoring Average 69.96) - Low Opening Round - 63 (2020 Shriners Open)
  • Sebastian Munoz (28th overall in 2020/21 season - Scoring Average 69.97) - Low Opening Round - 63 (2021 John Deere Classic)
  • Will Zalatoris (T32 overall in 2020/21 season – Scoring Average 70.04) – Low Opening Round – 66 WGC St Jude Invitational
  • Jhonattan Vegas (34th overall in 2020/21 season - Scoring Average 70.08) - Low Opening Round - 64 (2021 3M Open)

As you can see from the list above, just because they’re high on the scoring average, not all of these players were shooting 64’s and under which going by the 2019 renewal of this event may be what’s required to lead after day one. As a result, it may pay to look at those who have a history of going deeper than that. Someone who misses a lot of cuts may well have a decent record in opening rounds, but their volatility week-to-week means their average is hurt.

What score is required to lead after round 1?

This is, of course, a bit of a guess and subject to change, but the 64 from the 2019 renewal is the obvious target. Not only did that do it two years ago, but if we average out the leading round 1 scores on the PGA Tour from the 2020/21 season, over 45 individual events, we get an average leading round 1 score of 63.97. A 64 or 65 unless the conditions change dramatically should be a good target.

The Favorites

The favorites for this market correlate closely with the outright odds at the top of the market, but there is some value in backing the favorites in this market in comparison to the outright market if you think they can get off to a fast start. It is worth noting that Tiger Woods went wire-to-wire here in 2019, and Gary Woodland (5th) and Hideki Matsuyama (2nd) opened with 64 and 65, respectively, so it appears a fast start is essential for those that wish to contend if 2019 is anything to go by.

Xander Schauffele (+1200)

Not the fastest of starters generally, I see no real reason to dive in on Xander Schauffele in this market, especially as the favorite. He has held one first-round lead in his career, and that was at the Tour Championship, arguably his favorite event, where he opened with a 64. He has started a PGA Tour event with a 63 on two occasions (Travelers Championship 2020 and BMW Championship 2018), but they were only good enough to sit 2nd and 3rd, respectively. He opened with a 68 here in 2019.

Collin Morikawa (+1400)

Unlike Xander, Morikawa can generally be considered a fast starter, having held the lead after round 1 on three occasions since turning professional in 2019 and inside the top-3 on the opening day a further three times. He’s led with rounds of 65 twice and 66 on the third occasion but also opened up the Charles Schwab with a 64 last year. So if he is going to win this week, I could see him doing it in a similar fashion to Tiger, who went wire-to-wire.

Hideki Matsuyama (+2000)

Matsuyama has held seven first-round leads in his career dating back to 2010, with the most recent coming at the 2020 BMW Championship, where 67 was good enough to sit atop the tree at the end of play Thursday. He opened with a 65 here two years to start Friday, one behind Woodland and Woods, and he’s been starting fast recently as well. Rounds of 65 at the Shriners and 66 at the CJ Cup have been his best rounds of the week on both occasions, as he’s faced throughout the week on both occasions. Given it’s his home event, the fact he shot a 65 here in 2019, and his recent fast starts, Matsuyama might be the pick of the favorites.

Will Zalatoris (+2800)

We do not have a massive sample size on Zalatoris, given his relatively modest amount of starts so far in his career. Still, he did go wire-to-wire in his lone victory on the Korn Ferry Tour, and he was 4th after Day One of the Masters, but that was with an opening-round 70. So far, it seems Zalatoris is the type to grow into an event, which doesn’t work for this market. This can all change, of course, given his talent level, but I would rather Matsuyama at this end of the market.

Rickie Fowler (+3000)

Nine first-round leads in his career suggests he’s good for one most seasons, and his most recent came when opening with a 64 at the 3M Open back in July. Another 64 to sit 2nd after round 1 at the WGC St Jude last August is recent enough as well and given his lack of form over the past couple of seasons, it’s comforting to know he can still start fast. He opened with a 66 last week, which got him off to a good start and helped him to his T3 finish, even if it was five shy of Robert Streb’s opening 61. Fowler has Japanese ties with his Grandmother from here, and he’s also won by six strokes from Rory McIlroy back in Korea back at the start of his career.

Tommy Fleetwood (+3000)

Fleetwood has held four first-round leads in his career, one of which came at the Players Championship in 2019, so he has got previous across the Tours. While he’s been in good form when going back to the European Tour on either side of the Ryder Cup, it’s been a while since he played well on the PGA Tour, so much so that he actually lost his card. Keen to take advantage of these starts and secure his card again going forward, returning to Asia where he’s played well multiple times in the past might be the kick he needs. He finished T22 here in 2019 but made a slow start, with rounds of 71-69-67-67. None of those rounds are likely good enough to lead after day one, so he’s got to improve this time around.

First Round Leader Picks

Cameron Tringale (+3500)

He was one of the first players to pop into my head when considering first-round leaders this week, and it just happens to be that he got the first tee time off #1 tee this week. He will start the tournament at 8:30 am local time and is paired with Brandon Hagy and Yuki Inamori, a low-profile group.

Of those in the field this week, Tringale holds the best round scoring average on the PGA Tour from last season, and if he can replicate his 65 at the RSM Classic here, that may well be low enough to have a chance.

More recently, Tringale started his week with a 66 at the Fortinet to kick off the new season, good enough for 2nd place behind Chez Reavie on day one. He also shot a 66 to open up his week at the Shriners, but that was the tied-fifth best round of the day.

He looks to be in good enough form to hold the lead after round one this week, something he has done three times in his career. Since the end of 2018, Tringale has been inside the top-3 after round one on seven different occasions, with opening rounds of 63, 64, and 65 in that span. All three of those scores should be in contention for the low opening round here.

Sebastian Munoz (+6000)

The first-round leader market is often considered a lottery, and while yes, it is difficult to predict, there are certain players that start better than others on a Thursday. Sebastian Munoz is one of those.

Munoz held the first-round lead a ridiculous EIGHT times over the Korn Ferry and PGA Tours in 2017 and 2018, and he seems to be carrying that on.

Munoz has held the first-round lead a further three times across 2020 and 2021, most recently when shooting 63 to start the week at the John Deere Classic in July.

The Colombian led the field after round one in this event last year, albeit on a different course, as he opened with a wonderful 64 at Sherwood Country Club. That tells us he can do it in elite company, better in fact than the field he’s playing in this week, and hopefully, he can do the same here.

He’s in pretty poor form of late, but he shot that opening round 63 at the John Deere Classic off the back of three missed cuts and a 67th place finish in his four most recent starts. This suggests he can turn his form around fairly quickly, and we only need him to play one good round.

Munoz will be going out with Branden Grace and Wesley Bryan off the 10th tee at 10:20 am.

Shaun Norris (+6500)

Due to withdrawals, Norris got into this event as a late alternate, but he won the Japan Open last week, so he is clearly in strong form. Norris shot a pair of 64’s on Friday and Saturday last week, so he has a recent history of going low, and when 5th the week before, he closed with a 65, so in his previous 8 rounds, he has three rounds of 65 or better.

Norris has held seven first-round leads in his career, including two on the European Tour in 2020 when opening with a 64 at the Abu Dhabi Championship and a 63 at the Joburg Open in November, so he’s in fine fettle in this department.

He will be keen to take advantage of this late invite and give himself the chance of securing a PGA Tour card after years of plying his trade in Japan, and this looks like a golden opportunity for him. An experienced player on these types of courses, he is worthy of consideration, especially in this market. Of course, the occasion may get to him over the weekend if he has a chance to win and a shot at a PGA Tour card, but he should play freely on Thursday, and he’s not had to travel to Japan from a Vegas time zone or similar, unlike the majority of the field.

Norris will be out at 8:41 am local time, with Troy Merritt and Doug Ghim off of the 10th tee.

Sunghoon Kang (+7500)

Sunghoon Kang loves a fast start on the PGA Tour, most recently leading the Shriners Open two weeks ago, with an opening-round 61. This was his sixth first-round lead of his career across all Tours.

In 2021 alone, he opened with rounds of 61, 64, and 66 to sit 1st, 2nd, and 2nd after Thursday, showing its fairly common practice for him to start fast.

When playing here in 2019, he opened with a 67 to sit in 4th after day one and three shots behind Woods and Woodland, so he knows how to start well on the opening day, not only regularly but on this course as well. He will start with compatriot Si Woo Kim, and Adam Long at 9:03 am local time, off the 1st.

He is quite well-fancied in the outright market this week, but given his inconsistency, I think this is the best to make on Kang, and if you do bet him outright, you should certainly take him as a first-round leader as well in case he starts fast and fades away.

Article Author


Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-hosts the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on all the major Tours. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, and was delighted to see his Forest team win promotion this season!


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