The First Look: Keegan Bradley returns to where career reinvention began at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
7 Min Read
Written by Adam Stanley @adam_stanley
For Keegan Bradley, it was a euphoric, drought-busting experience last year at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP.
Bradley was obviously emotional at the time.
“I’ve been crying since I finished,” Bradley said. “I can’t remember the last time I cried.
“I never experienced emotions like that after winning a tournament.”
Bradley burst out of the gate in his PGA TOUR career, but just wasn’t able to finish any other event across the line since his 2018 win at the BMW Championship. He had been close, of course, notching a fifth at THE PLAYERS Championship in 2022 along with a tie for second at the Wells Fargo Championship a few weeks later. He was certainly trending.
He said he took some inspiration from Tiger Woods in Japan, having played 36 holes alongside Woods the year that he won it, in 2019.
“To watch (Woods) win up close was spectacular" Bradley said. "I was thinking about it the whole day today, just remembering Tiger, how he walked a little slower then. So, I just tried to do that.”
Bradley won last year’s ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP by one shot.
Keegan Bradley ends winless drought at ZOZO
He would go on to finish second at the Farmers Insurance Open this January and would notch another emotional triumph at his hometown event, the Travelers Championship. He set the tournament scoring record after opening the tournament with rounds of 62-63-64 and with the New England crowd chanting his name as he walked up 18, he rolled in a two-footer for the win.
Bradley said after his win in Japan that he “learned a lot” and could take “a lot of that going forward for the rest of the year.”
He did exactly that. Now it’s time to return to where it all started.
FIELD NOTES: Bradley looks to become the first golfer to successfully defend his title at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP. This is Bradley’s first start since he finished tied for ninth at the TOUR Championship and marks Bradley’s fourth start at the ZOZO, where he has finished inside the top 15 every year, with two top 10s … A trio of American Ryder Cuppers are back in action for the first time since Rome with Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa and Rickie Fowler all in action. Fowler was the 54-hole leader a year ago. This is Schauffele’s first start on TOUR since he finished tied for second at the TOUR Championship … Japan’s favorite son, Hideki Matsuyama, is back in action on TOUR. Matsuyama, who won this event in 2021, has not played on TOUR since the FedEx St. Jude Championship. He withdrew after the first round of the BMW Championship citing a back injury, which snapped the longest streak – nine years – of playing in the TOUR Championship … Sungjae Im returns for the first time since playing the TOUR Championship. Im and Si Woo Kim earned the team gold medal at the Asian Games two weeks ago, while Im also earned the individual silver medal… Sahith Theegala, who won the first event of the FedExCup Fall, the Fortinet Championship, for his first TOUR title, will tee it up. Theegala finished tied for fifth a year ago in Japan … The field will once again feature plenty of Japan’s best male golfers (led by Matsuyama). Takumi Kanaya will tee it up in his 21st PGA TOUR event (including nine majors). The former world No. 1-ranked amateur – a spot he held for 55 weeks – earned his way into the field after winning the BMW Japan Golf Tour Championship Mori Building Cup (one of the four major championships on the Japan Golf Tour) while Kaito Onishi will play for the fifth time on TOUR. Onishi was the 2018 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year at USC and turned pro in 2021… Eleven spots in the field will be determined Sunday. The top eight available from the Japan Golf Tour’s money list through this week’s Japan Open Golf Championship will get a start, while three additional sponsor exemptions restricted to Japan Golf Tour members are set to be announced.
|Highest Ranked Players in the Field|
|FedExCup Standings||Official World Golf Ranking|
|2. Xander Schauffele||6. Xander Schauffele|
|T6. Collin Morikawa||16. Keegan Bradley|
|T9. Keegan Bradley||20. Collin Morikawa|
|T9. Adam Schenk||24. Rickie Fowler|
|T16. Rickie Fowler||26. Sungjae Im|
|24. Sungjae Im||30. Kurt Kitayama|
|25. Nick Taylor||31. Sahith Theegala|
|T29. Emiliano Grillo||35. Emiliano Grillo|
|T29. Taylor Moore||36. Hideki Matsuyama|
|31. Sahith Theegala||42. Cam Davis|
SPONSOR EXEMPTIONS: Min Woo Lee is back on the PGA TOUR for the first time since playing at The Open Championship. Lee, who accepted Special Temporary Membership to the PGA TOUR after a tie for 18th at the PGA Championship, had two top-15 finishes on the DP World Tour in September. The week prior to this year's ZOZO, he won for the first time in two years with a two-stroke victory at the SJM Macao Open on the Asian Tour… Nicolai Højgaard will tee it up for the second TOUR event in a row after being part of the winning European Ryder Cup team. Højgaard has made nine cuts so far in 2023 with his best result a runner-up at the Corales Puntacana Championship… Cameron Champ received a sponsor exemption for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP. Champ was the co-leader through 36 holes at the Shriners Children’s Open and finished eighth in Japan a year ago. He became a father for the first time three months ago… Satoshi Kodaira, a one-time winner on the PGA TOUR, will return to action at the ZOZO. He finished tied for 16th last year and will need a good week to help move him up the FedExCup Fall rankings… Like Kodaira, Trevor Werbylo would welcome a solid week at the ZOZO to help earn points towards his FedExCup Fall points total. Werbylo, in the field on a sponsor invite, recorded his best finish of the year at the Valspar Championship (T27).
1) TOP TALENT IN TOKYO
Sixteen of the top 50 in the world are set to tee it up at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, led by No. 6 Schauffele. The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP winners include Woods, former FedExCup Champion Patrick Cantlay, Japan’s top-ranked male golfer and Masters Champion Matsuyama and now six-time TOUR winner – including the 2011 PGA Championship – Bradley. With this kind of world-beating talent in Japan, look for another notable winner this week.
2) FIELD BREAKDOWN
The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP will once again have a 78-man field that will play four rounds but feature no cut. A full 500 FedExCup points will be awarded to the winner. While there are plenty of golfers who are already inside the top 50 of the FedExCup standings at the conclusion of the TOUR Championship, there’s lots to play for. Some of the field will be jockeying for valuable FedExCup Fall points, while others will be looking to nail a spot in The Next 10. Ben Griffin is currently in the 51st spot on the FedExCup standings and tops on The Next 10 list, while S.H. Kim is at No. 60 – both of whom are teeing it up in Japan.
3) BIG IN JAPAN
Matsuyama has the most wins of any Japanese golfer of all time on the PGA TOUR with eight triumphs, including the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in 2021. Five Japanese players have won a combined total of 14 times on TOUR, with another solid generation of Japanese golfers coming up the world’s ranking right now.
FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 FedExCup points.
COURSE: Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, par 70, 7,079 yards. Just east of Tokyo, it’s a stunning parkland layout designed by Kinya Fujita. The 36-hole facility was opened in 1965 and welcomed the PGA TOUR in 2019 after playing host to plenty of high-level golf events in its history. The layout mixes nine holes each from the club’s King Course and Queen Course, the result being five par 3s and three par 5s.
72-HOLE RECORD: 261, Tiger Woods (2019)
18-HOLE RECORD: 62, Andrew Putnam (Second Round, 2022)
Tournament 18-hole record: 61, Richy Werenski (Second round, 2020 at Sherwood)
LAST TIME: Bradley won for the first time on the PGA TOUR in just over four years, topping Fowler and Putnam by one shot. He choked back tears after his 72nd-hole tap in. Bradley bogeyed two of his final five holes but rolled in a key 20-foot birdie on the penultimate hole to take a two-shot lead into the closing 18th. It marked Bradley’s fifth PGA TOUR title. Fowler, the 54-hole leader, would go on to break his own winless drought the following summer at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Emiliano Grillo finished fourth while Theegala, Hayden Buckley and eventual FedExCup Champion Viktor Hovland tied for fifth.
HOW TO FOLLOW:
Television: Wednesday (into Thursday) - Thursday (into Friday) - Friday (into Saturday) - Saturday (into Sunday): 11 p.m. – 3 a.m. ET. (Golf channel/Peacock)