Inzai City, Japan — Tiger Woods couldn’t have scripted a better scenario for the PGA Tour’s first tournament in Japan despite his shaky start.
After a layoff from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two months ago, Woods shot a 6-under 64 on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Zozo Championship.
Woods was tied with Gary Woodland, with local favorite Hideki Matsuyama a stroke behind. They had to wait another day to get back on the course after heavy rain washed out play Friday.
Things didn’t start well for Woods when he sent his opening shot into the water on No. 10 and bogeyed the first three holes.
“The start I got off to wasn’t very good, I hit bad shot after bad shot … and the next thing you know, things aren’t looking so good,” Woods said.
But the Masters champion quickly found his game at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, with birdies on four of his next six holes. He had five birdies on the final seven holes.
“After the start, the ball-striking was better, the putting was really good,” Woods said. “I was hitting a lot of good putts, the ball was rolling tight which was nice. “
Woods is making his first start in his 23rd season on the PGA Tour, needing one victory to reach 82 wins and tie the career record held by Sam Snead.
Woods last played in an official tournament in Japan in 2006 at the Dunlop Phoenix, where he lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington. He won the Dunlop Phoenix the two previous years.
As pleased as Woods was with his day, the Japanese fans couldn’t have been happier. The American is hugely popular in Japan and drew the biggest galleries Thursday.
“The people here in Japan have come out and supported this event,” Woods said. “It’s been a lot of fun to play in front of them again, I haven’t done it in a while. I’ve missed it. They’ve always been fantastic with golf and supported their golf here.”
Woodland had six birdies, including one on the par-5 18th.
“I played well from top to bottom,” Woodland said. “I drove the ball well and anytime I can control the ball on the greens from the fairway, that adds up to a pretty good day.”
Matsuyama led early with four birdies on the front nine, but faltered with a bogey on the final hole.
“I am just one stroke behind the leader so think I am in a good position,” Matsuyama said. “Tomorrow I need to minimize my mistakes.”
The Zozo tournament is part of three tournaments that make up the PGA Tour’s Asia Swing, including the CJ Cup in South Korea won last week by Justin Thomas and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai next week.
Organizers said more than 20,000 fans attended the opening day.
Among the other big names, Rory McIlroy (72) struggled with the windy conditions and Thomas had an even-par 70. Jason Day, who beat Woods in a Skins game on Monday at the same venue, finished with a 73, while Jordan Spieth shot a 74.
In Busan, South Korea, Minjee Lee overcame a series of changing weather conditions at the Buick Ladies Championship to take a one-stroke lead with a bogey-free 6-under 66 after the first round of the LPGA tournament.
“Sometime we had sunshine, wind, rain … we had a little bit of everything today,” the Australian said Thursday under an umbrella at the end of her round as the showers persisted. “But whenever I had to make up-and-downs, I was able to get up-and-down.”
Danielle Kang, who won last week’s tournament at Shanghai, was in a group tied for second with Jin Young Ko, Jeongeun Lee6 and Seung Yeon Lee on the LPGA International Busan course.
Shanshan Feng was in a group of seven tied for sixth with a 68. She found some of the tough conditions to her liking.
“Somehow when I play in the wind, I’m more focused and more patient.”
Lydia Ko and Nelly Korda each shot 69, her sister Jessica Korda 71 and Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer had opening 74s.
It’s the second stop on the LPGA Tour’s Asian swing. There are tournaments in Taiwan and Japan over the next two weeks.