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Woods shrugs off shaky start to take the lead in Japan; Conners five shots back

Written by Canadian Press
Photo: Ben Jared PGA TOUR/Getty Images

INZAI CITY, Japan — Tiger Woods couldn’t have scripted a better scenario for the PGA’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 favourite Hideki Matsuyama one stroke behind.

Teeing off from the 10th hole, things didn’t start well for Woods who sent his opening shot into the water. That led to the first of three straight bogeys.

“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 to get to 1 under.

“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.”

Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., is tied for 14th after a 1-under 69. Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., is tied for 33rd at 71.

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 on 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.

Heavy rain from a storm over the Pacific Ocean is expected on Friday. With weather issues predicted for the second round, the tee times have been moved up an hour but play could still be affected.

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.

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