Woods, McIlroy set for Japan tee-off

V Krishnaswamy Chiba | Updated on October 23, 2019 Published on October 23, 2019

Tiger Woods of the US celebrates on the 18th hole after winning the 2019 Masters   -  REUTERS

The weather here in Japan right now is all hitting the country in various places disrupting life in general with typhoons and torrential rain and floods. Yet, the presence of the strongest ever field on Japanese soil at the $9.75-million inaugural Zozo Championship has, despite the wretched weather, brought a smile on the faces of the golf-obsessed Japanese fans. More than 20,000 braved the extremely wet and chilly weather for the Pro-Am. The Skins Challenge featuring Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama, too, had a large rush of fans.

The crowds ProAm also saw a lot of rugby stars turn up as the World Cup of Rugby is in progress in Japan right now.

Woods and McIlroy further endeared themselves to the Japanese fans by confirming that they will play the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. In 2016 Woods, after some troubled seasons, did not make the team while McIlroy undecided about whom he should play for — Ireland or Great Britain — also stayed away because of the Zika virus in Brazil. Now, he has confirmed that he will play for Ireland.

On Thursday, Woods is due to play with local Satishi Kodaira and Tommy Fleetwood while McIlroy goes out with Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele. The other marquee group will have Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Scott.

The field of 78 will have no cut and all play all four rounds.

2019-20 season

Woods makes his first start of the 2019-20 season, first in Asia since 2012 and first in Japan since 2006, in search of his record-tying 82nd PGA TOUR victory while the reigning FedExCup champion and PGA TOUR Player of the Year Rory McIlroy is set to make his first start of the season.

This is the strongest field that has ever assembled in Japan since the 1989 Dunlop Phoenix tournament. The field has 13 of the top 30 in the current FedExCup standings, led by Thomas (No 3), Kevin Na (No 4) and Joaquin Niemann (No 5). It also has 20 of the 30 players who qualified for the 2019 TOUR Championship and as many as 31 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, including World No 2 McIlroy.

The field includes the winner of last week’s THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, Thomas, who has won four of the last 11 PGA TOUR events in Asia.

Besides Woods (2007 and 2009), McIlroy (2016 and 2019) and Thomas (2017) the other two past FedExCup champions in this week’s field are Billy Horschel (2014) and Jordan Spieth (2015).

One can almost hear the Japanese golf fans smacking their lips in anticipation.

Published on October 23, 2019
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