It was a very good week for European golfers with both Matt Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy notching up more than overdue victories at the Andalucía Masters and CJ Cup respectively. Both aren’t heading over to Japan for the Zozo Championship, but there’s still a strong group teeing it up with Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa battling it out for favouritism.

Here’s our look ahead to Thursday’s opening round in Japan.

Xander could end elusive wait for PGA Tour victory

Although Xander Schauffele is the new Olympic gold medallist, an accolade he won in Japan one might add, it’s been nearly three years since the popular American has tasted success on the PGA Tour. Since winning the 2019 Tournament of Champions, Schauffele has finished runner-up seven times on tour with that fifth victory somehow eluding him. Winning is never easy, but for a man of his ability to have won just four times will annoy the 27-year-old and he’ll be keen to show he’s not the tour’s ‘nearly man’.

And perhaps a trip to Japan might just be the place he does that. As mentioned, he won the gold medal in the country earlier this year and given his Japanese heritage, the Land of the Rising Sun will always hold a special place in the American’s heart. So, while having his family in attendance at Narashino Country Club will surely be a benefit, there are plenty of other signs to suggest this could be the week he finally puts it all together.

On reflection a tie for 18th last week doesn’t scream a man in form, but by his own admission he was mentally and physically drained after the Ryder Cup and therefore it was no surprise to see him start slowly. However, he did still shoot four rounds in the 60s, including a Sunday 63, and it’s important to note that he gained shots on the field in every key statistic – the first time he’d done that since his Olympic victory. If you include his low 72-hole score at the 2020 Tour Championship as a win, Schauffele’s preceding finishing positions were 35, 20, 48, 16, 25, 26 – in other words, solid but not spectacular, just like last week at the CJ Cup. Another interesting trend is that in all of his Tour wins, the week prior he shot a low round on either Saturday or Sunday as shown by a Sunday 65 at the Open before his gold medal win the following week.

It’s unsurprising he’s one of the favourites at 15/2, but this does look a very good opportunity to get back in the winners’ enclosure and give him something to build on as we move into 2022.

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