Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama made a sizzling start to the Zozo Championship, firing a bogey-free 64 to take a share of second place at 6-under, one shot behind leader Hiroshi Iwata, in the first round on Thursday.
Matsuyama is the biggest draw at Narashino Country Club in Chiba Prefecture, as the U.S. PGA Tour event returns to Japan. He delighted the galleries by snaring three birdies on either side of the turn in perfect conditions. Chilean Joaquin Niemann matched him with a 64. They have a one-shot advantage over Britain’s Matt Wallace.
Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele picked up three shots on his first five holes but plummeted down the leaderboard into a share of 29th after four bogeys against a single birdie. Iwata, who matched the then-lowest round at a major with a 63 at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, threatened to tear up the course when he turned around at 5-under after an eagle on his ninth hole. The 40-year-old managed only two more birdies on the way in, however, and settled for a 63.
That was enough to keep him ahead of Matsuyama, who three-putted for par on his final hole for a disappointing end to a fine round.
It was not the only stroke Matsuyama left on the greens, but his approach play, including an iron that pitched within inches of the flag at the 17th, ensured he remained among the leading pack.
Tiger Woods won the first ZOZO Championship for his 82nd career title in 2019, but the second edition last year was moved to California because of the travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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