By TOM LaMARRE
Keegan Bradley is back to defend his title in the Zozo Championship, the fourth of seven tournaments in the PGA Tour’s Fall Series at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan, where he got his career back on track.
And to say Bradley was emotional after winning last year by one stroke is a bit of an understatement.
“I’ve been crying since I finished,” Bradley, winner of the 2011 PGA Championship, said well after he concluded the final round in the Zozo. “I can’t remember the last time I cried. I never experienced emotions like that after winning a tournament.”
Bradley, who is now 37 years old, gave credit to Tiger Woods.
Woods captured the first Zozo Championship in 2019 to tie Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories, and Bradley was right there to see it.
“To watch (Woods) win up close was spectacular,” said Bradley, who played 36 holes alongside Woods en route to a tie for 13th. “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, who had not won since the 2018 BMW Championship before the Zozo, continued his comeback last year when he claimed his sixth PGA Tour victory and 12th as a professional by three strokes in the Travelers Championship.
Those were two of Bradley’s 10 finishes in the top 25 in the last year, and he is back up to No. 16 in the World Golf Rankings after winning twice in the same season for the first time since he was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2011.
“It’s nice to have a long extended period of time home where I can sort of let my guard down a little bit with my golf and really focus on (his family), and focus on living a normal life and regrouping,” said Bradley, who hasn’t played in a tournament since tying for ninth in the Tour Championship in August. “I haven’t been able to do that in probably a decade. It’s been really, really nice. But I am eager to get back to playing.
“This tournament, coming back here, brings back a lot of great memories. I really, really love playing in the country of Japan. I love the fans, I love the little cities that we’ve been able to explore. They’re so clean and the food is so great.
“Being able to come over here as an American and win this tournament is a big deal. I really look forward to coming to Japan. It’s been one of my favorite places to play.”
This is only the fifth Zozo Championship and the only other former champion in the field is Hideki Matsuyama, who won it in 2021 by five strokes and is one of a dozen Japanese golfers playing this week.
1. Xander Schauffele, United States—Sixth-ranked Schauffele has won twice in Asia, at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, in addition to claiming the Gold Medal in the 2021 Olympic Games in Japan among his 10 pro victories. He has not won in the last year, but has 10 top-10 finishes including second twice. Tied for ninth in the Zozo last year and tied for 10th in 2019.
2. Cam Davis, Australia—A four-time winner as a pro, including in the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic on the PGA Tour, Davis has nine top-10 finishes this year, including a tie for fourth in the PGA Championship, a tie for sixth in the Players Championship and third recently in the Fortinet Championship. He made his first start in the Zozo Championship last year and tied for 29th.
3. Collin Morikawa, United States—The two-time major champion has seven top-10 finishes in the last year and just missed his sixth PGA Tour victory when he lost to Rickie Fowler in a playoff at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Morikawa also was second in the Sentry TOC and tied for sixth in the Tour Championship. Best result in four Zozo starts was a tie for seventh in 2021.
4. Sungjae Im, South Korea—Has six victories as a pro, including two on the PGA Tour in the 2020 Honda Classic and 2021 Shriners Children’s Open, and in the last year he has nine finishes in the top 10, including a tie for fourth in the Farmers and a tie for sixth in the Players Championship. Im’s best result in three starts in Zozo Championship was a tie for third in 2019.
5. Rickie Fowler, United States—Bounced back from a few down seasons by claiming his sixth PGA Tour victory in the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July, among eight finishes in the top 10 in the last year, including a tie for fifth in the U.S. Open. Fowler started 67-63-66 to lead the Zozo Championship last year, but closed with a 70 and finished one stroke behind Keegan Bradley.
6. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan—As usual, Matsuyama leads a large contingent of Japanese players in the Zozo, which he won by five strokes two years ago for one of his 17 victories as a professional. The 2021 Masters champion suffered from a back injury for much of last season, when his best results were fifth in the Players and a tie for ninth in the Farmers Insurance Open.
7. Keegan Bradley, United States—The defending Zozo champion made that his fifth PGA Tour victory, but first since the 2018 BMW Championship, and he added a sixth title in the Travelers Championship last June. Those were two of Bradley’s six top-10 in the last year, including a tie for ninth in the Tour Championship and a solo second in the Farmers Insurance Open.
8. Min Woo Lee, Australia—The brother of LPGA Tour star Minjee Lee has played all over the world and has two victories on the DP World Tour in addition to adding his third pro title last week in the SJM Macao Open on the Asian Tour with a tournament record 30-under-par. Lee has earned temporary membership on the PGA Tour and will make his Zozo debut this week.
9. Sahith Theegala, United States—Will be playing for the first time since he claimed his first PGA Tour victory and second as a professional in the Fortinet Championship at Silverado last month. That gave Theegala eight finishes in the top 10 this year, including a tie for second in the RSM Classic and solo ninth in the Masters. He tied for fifth in his Zozo debut last season.
10. Eric Cole, United States—The 33-year-old rookie, who won 12 times on the Minor League Golf Tour, came close on the PGA Tour when he lost in a playoff to Chris Kirk at the Honda Classic in February. Cole comes off a tie for third in the Shriners, and was fourth in the Fortinet, tied for fifth in the Mexico Open and tied for sixth in Canadian Open. He’s making Zozo debut.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Adam Scott, Australia; Beau Hossler, United States; Ryo Hisatsune, Japan; Alex Noren, Sweden; Adam Svensson, Canada; Cameron Champ, United States; Vincent Norrman, Sweden; Emiliano Grillo, Argentina; Nicolai Hojgaard, Denmark; Aaron Rai, England.
1. Brandon Wu, United States—Winner of the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Championship was T-2 at Pebble Beach and solo third in Mexico Open. Finished T-29 in first Zozo appearance last season.
2. Callum Tarren, England—Claimed only pro victory in 2017 Jiangsu Open in China Tour. T-2 in RSM Classic, T-7 in Fortinet and T-29 in PGA Championship this year. Makes Zozo debut.
3. Keita Nakajima, Japan—Former No. 1 amateur in the world has won twice on Japan Tour this season, after winning once there before turning pro. T-12 in pro debut at the 2022 Zozo.
4. Justin Lower, United States—Two-time winner of Ohio Open and 2010 NAIA champion for Malone U. was T-4 in Fortinet, T-8 in Bermuda, solo eighth in Rocket Mortgage. Zozo debut.
5. Garrick Higgo, South Africa—Seven-time winner as a pro, including the 2021 Palmetto Championship, has seven top-20s on PGA Tour this year, including third at Sanderson Farms.
For first-round tee times and complete results once the tournament starts, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard