Matsuyama’s opening 64 thrills Japan fans at Zozo Championship

INZAI, JAPAN (AFP) – Hideki Matsuyama electrified the home galleries as he got off to a fast start with a six-under round of 64 at the US PGA Tour’s Zozo Championship in Japan yesterday.

Matsuyama, who became the first male Japanese player to win a major at the US Masters in April, birdied the first hole and picked up two more to be three-under after six holes at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, outside Tokyo.

He plundered another three birdies on the back nine to lie just a stroke off the first-round lead held by countryman Hiroshi Iwata.

“I’ve shot six-under the last few tournaments on the first day and I just hope I can keep it going this time,” said Matsuyama, who had most of the 5,000 masked spectators allowed following his every move.

“We play in front of a lot of fans on the PGA Tour States-side, but to be able to play in my home country in front of so many Japanese fans, it was a thrill, and I’m glad I played well today,” added the world number 19, who was runner-up to Tiger Woods at the inaugural Zozo Championship on the same course two years ago.

Hideki Matsuyama tees off at the ninth hole during the first round of the PGA ZOZO Championship golf tournament. PHOTO: AFP

Playing partner Xander Schauffele, making his return to Japan less than three months after winning Tokyo Olympics gold, was also quick out of the blocks to reach three under par after just five holes.

But his driving let him down later in the round as the American world number five sprayed his tee shots both left and right to card four bogeys in an untidy level-par 70.

Schauffele’s grandparents live in Japan, and his heritage ensured he received plenty of support.

“It was nice to get some claps when you make a birdie putt or even a par putt. The fans were awesome. I think they’re happy that we’re here and we’re definitely happy that they’re here,” said Schauffele, who was looking forward to locking horns with Matsuyama again in today’s second round.

“I hope everyone enjoyed whatever show we put on today and I hope that everyone comes out and supports us tomorrow,” he said.

Iwata, starting his round on the 10th, reached the turn at five-under par with an eagle at 18 before closing with two more on his second nine for the round of the day with a 63 to stand a shot clear of Matsuyama and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann.

England’s Matt Wallace was a further shot adrift on five-under 65, with American Brendan Steele alone in fifth place with a four-under par 66.

“This is a really hard course. I love it because it’s fun,” said Niemann. “You’ve got to hit it both ways, you’ve got to hit draw, you’ve got to hit fade.”