Rusty Woods turns birdie machine; takes lead in Japan

Chiba | Updated on May 31, 2021

Tiger Woods during the first round of Zozo Championship in Inzai, Chiba   -  TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

Takes lead in Japan

Tiger Woods could do nothing right for the first three holes and then could little wrong for the next 15 as he carded six-under 64 in the first round of the inaugural $9.75-million Zozo Championship. He had three bogeys on 1-2-3 and then nine birdies in the next 15 holes.

It was his lowest round to open a season in his long and illustrious career, which now stands one win short of the Sam Snead’s record 82 PGA Tour wins.

If Woods’ round was a thrill-a-minute, Gary Woodland went about his job quietly, almost unnoticed at times. Four-under through the front nine he added two more on back nine, including and 18thand was one of the only two bogey-free players on the day. Ryo Ishikawa (68) was the other, even though Hideki Matsuyama (67) was the best Japanese on the day at Tied-third.

Woods’ first competitive round, as opposed to the Skins game he played three days ago, was as adventurous as it was dramatic. He opened with a tee shot on 10th, his first of the day, into the water for a bogey and found a tree with his tee shot on ninth, his closing hole of the day.

The opening was rough with a penalty for finding water; missed fairways, going into the rough and then adding to all that was a three-putt. That saw him three-over for three before order was restored. A par on 13th, his fourth hole provided some breathing space.

Then he took off with birdies from all distances, tap-ins to 10-footers to 20-footers and even a 30-footer.

Speaking of his comeback from three-over through three, Woods said, “It’s always harder. It’s always nice to get off to a quick start and then figure it out from there. But the start I got off to wasn’t very good. I hit bad shot after bad shot after bad shot and the next thing you know, things aren’t looking very good.”

The forecast for Friday was grim with heavy rain and a storm, so the tee times have been brought up by an hour. Woods said, “Well, I think that it’s going to be sloppy and tough for us tomorrow before the storm gets in and I think we’re probably going to get a little bit wet.”

Starting on the 10th, Woods put the first ball into the water with a pull and came out with a bogey; next he missed the fairway and a 12-footer for par. He found the fairway on third but three-putted from 50 feet to go bogey-bogey-bogey and three-over after three.

Just as someone murmured about there being no cut this week, Woods took the long walk from 12thgreen to 13thtee, probably thinking about his travails thus far. Then came the turnaround.

A par on 13thwas followed by the Par-5 14that 608 yards. Woods went into the gallery, but looked okay with a decent lie and then from fairway he was inside 20 feet and holed it for a birdie. The 15thand again into the gallery and again a decent lie and great shot to six feet for a birdie. Next at 183-yard Par-3, Woods went for the pin and from inside 10 feet, yet another birdie. So, now it is birdie-birdie-birdie and he is even through seven!

He two-putted for par on 17thand on 562 yard Par-5 18thWoods went for the green and had an eagle try from 25 feet, which he birdied. So it was not one-under at the turn.

On the back nine a 30-footer on Par-3 third and a 10-footer on Par-4 fourth was followed by a tidy putt from the centre of the green on Par-3 fifth for his second birdie hat-trick of the day and he was four-under.

A birdie on Par-3 seventh from almost 20 feet was followed by a slice of luck on ninth, his closing hole, when the ball hit the tree and fell below it. He willed his second shot to inside five feet for a final birdie.

The opening day saw 17,700 fans, many of whom were either not born or were mere toddlers when Woods last played in this country in 2006.

Woods loved it, “It (the crowd) was loud, it was very loud. The people here in Japan have come out and supported this event. It’s been a lot of fun to play in front of them again. I haven’t done it in a while and I’ve missed it. Hopefully (they) will get some better weather and not get too rained out so they can come out and enjoy this.”

And, what can be better than seeing Tiger Woods in full flow in front of an adoring audience.

Irishman Rory McIlroy didn’t have the best of starts and shot 72, including a double bogey on Par-4 12th. Justin Thomas carded 70, World No. 4 Kevin Na, shot 71 as did the Open champion, Shane Lowry.

Published on October 24, 2019

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