2022 ZOZO Championship: Data Paints Crystal Clear Picture on Where Winner Will Likely Emerge

2022 ZOZO Championship: Data Paints Crystal Clear Picture on Where Winner Will Likely Emerge article feature image

Photo by YUICHI YAMAZAKI/AFP via Getty Images. Pictured: Keegan Bradley.

It seems as if all Rickie Fowler needed to get back to being himself was a new makeover involving familiar faces.

Fowler made a few significant changes this offseason, including changing clubs and his caddie, but it was the return of his swing coach, Butch Harmon, that appears to be the icing on the cake for the rejuvenation to begin the 2023 season.

Fowler will begin his final round at the 2022 ZOZO Championship with a one-shot lead over Keegan Bradley, another golfer who has returned to form over the past few seasons, and the two will try to hold off a slew of chasers, which includes Viktor Hovland, Maverick McNealy, Sahith Theegala and Cameron Champ.

Let's talk a little about what we expect to occur during the final round and see if we can locate any non-statistical answers we can incorporate into our research process.

If you aren't doing so already, you can find me on Twitter @TeeOffSports. There I will provide my pre-tournament model, a powerful and interactive data spreadsheet that allows user inputs to create custom rankings for golf. That sheet is free and released every Monday, so be sure to check it out and construct your own numbers from my database of information.

(Editor's note: For those who might be unaware, the PGA Tour uses something called “Stat Tracker” for measuring data. The tournament is in Japan this week, and their system doesn't travel outside the country. So essentially, we can see the tournament scores, but we can't see how someone is accomplishing their results from a statistical perspective.)

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Round 4 Historical Data

I want to preface this by saying I don't have every tournament in chronological order over the past few years and have missed a few for various reasons, including events like this where statistical data wasn't accessible, but I do have a database of 80 events that can look into where every player stood in the standings heading into the round.

It is interesting to talk about, since the numbers do what you would expect, but let's highlight a few key takeaways that I can pull from my sheet.

Where Did The Eventual Winner Sit On The Leaderboard After Each Round?

After Round 1 –15.33 (-3.12 shots off the lead)
After Round 2 –8.07 (-2.66 shots off the lead)
After Round 3 – 3.16 (-1.31 shots off the lead)

The two massive takeaways I found from that data would be:

  1. Players don't come from as far off the pace as you might expect after day one, and …

  2. The round four winners are averaging a starting spot just over third on the leaderboard when the day begins.

Sure, a lot of that information is going to be steadily condensed when a few of the golfers hold their overnight lead for victory, but it has been challenging for the field to overcome a deficit when both factors occur of being outside the top 10 entering the day and five or more shots back.

There have been only two occasions in 80 tries in my data where that has come to fruition: Sam Burns at the Charles Schwab during his 17th-place start and seven-stroke deficit and Luke Luke at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he overcame his 19th-place Sunday position on the leaderboard and five-shot deficiency. Every other tournament has seen a golfer land inside a five-shot range or the top 10 of the leaderboard when the day began.

So let's eliminate everyone outside that, which will be any player at eight-under par or worse.

In theory, that leaves us with one of Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Andrew Putnam, Viktor Hovland, Maverick McNealy, Cameron Champ, Hayden Buckley, Sahith Theegala, Taylor Moore, Tom Hoge, Ryo Hisatsune, Joel Dahmen or Matthew NeSmith that will walk out of Japan with the title, but I believe we can take it a step further from there to eliminate a few more choices.

There has been no winner in 2022 that didn't crack the top 50 of my model from a pre-event standpoint, and while this is a limited-sized event which will make it more challenging to remove choices, Ryo Hisatune gets withdrawn from contention with his 73rd-place grade.

In fact, when we try to predict the winner and get even more technical, past pre-tournament models of mine have been extremely successful in finding the eventual champion when we increase the result to become even more high-end.

82.35% of eventual winners have landed inside the top 25 of either the upside or overall portions of my model, giving us the following names that look to be most likely to capture this week's title: Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Andrew Putnam, Viktor Hovland, Maverick McNealy, Sahith Theegala, Taylor Moore and Tom Hoge.

None of that necessarily helps us a ton, since the top of the leaderboard remained flat in expected output, but I do think it should enhance the likelihood that one of those players wins and will make it that much harder for anyone way off the pace to catch them on the final day since each has earned their position at or near the top.

I have noticed sharp markets making credible moves on Keegan Bradley, Andrew Putnam, Viktor Hovland and Maverick McNealy, if we want to get technical with the eight names above, but it is one of those boards where I stress to everyone to avoid going too deep down the list of competitors when hoping to find a longshot ticket. It is very likely the winner will be one of the obvious choices that I mentioned near the top.

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