Recap of the day
Despite a brief glimpse of him in Monday's Skins game, expectations surrounding Tiger Woods were tempered ahead of his first competitive start since mid-August. Three opening bogeys on day one at Japan's first ever PGA TOUR event suggested he'd be happy that this was a no-cut tournament but Woods then went on a birdie blitz, circling nine red numbers to post six-under 64. That was matched by U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, the pair finishing a shot in front of local hero Hideki Matsuyama. But conditions were far from easy. Just 24 of the 78 players broke par of 70 as the wind blew.
Leaderboard: -6 Tiger Woods, Gary Woodland, -5 Hideki Matsuyama, -3 Daniel Berger, Sung Kang, Ryan Palmer, -2 Andrew Putnam, Ryo Ishikawa, C.T. Pan, Billy Horschel, Joaquin Niemann, Xander Schauffele, Rikuya Hoshino.
Revised outright betting:
4/1 Matsuyama, 9/2 Woodland, Woods, 16/1 Thomas, Schauffele, 25/1 Casey, 30/1 Niemann, 33/1 Horschel.
Friday weather forecast
This could get messy. Heavy rain is forecast and the NE wind is set to blow at 15mph and beyond. Tee-times have been brought forward to 07:00, an hour earlier than in round one.
Leaders after at 18 holes
Tiger Woods (64) – After dumping his opening tee-shot in water and slipping to +3 after 3, Woods played his last 14 holes in 9-under. Given the conditions and his lack of competitive play, that was some effort. Ranked T1st for GIR and T1st for Putts Per GIR (there are no-shot link stats).
Gary Woodland (64) – Woodland has enjoyed three consecutive top five finishes in Asia so no surprises to see him shining here in Japan. Led the field in Putting Average (1.39) and was 100% in Scrambling after pelting 13 greens (T10) and nine (of 13) fairways (T3). Bogey free.
Hideki Matsuyama (65) – The pressure was on for the local hero but he responded. Matched Tiger by ranking T1st for both Greens In Regulation (15) and Putts Per GIR (1.533). Seven birdies against two pars.
Fate of the favorites
Justin Thomas (70) – Three birdies but hampered by three bogeys. Not a great day with the putter (T54 in Putts Per GIR) and found less than half the fairways (6 of 13).
Rory McIlroy (72) – Under par at the turn but then went bogey-double bogey at 11 and 12. Hit plenty of greens (14) but scrambled and putted poorly.
Hideki Matsuyama (see above)
Tiger Woods (64): "After the start, the ball striking was better. The putting was really good. I was hitting a lot of good putts and the ball's rolling tight, which was nice. I must have made seven or eight left to righters today, just kept on having left to right putt after left to right putt. And lo and behold I make a bomb at seven, which was right to left, which was nice, but it was just weird. Even the one on nine was another left to righter. It was just one of those crazy days."
Gary Woodland (64): "To be honest with you, I think after the U.S. Open, I was riding that short game so hard and I worked so hard on the short game and I kind of lost ball striking a little bit. After Vegas I put a lot of work in, the ball striking's coming back where I want it. I've got to rely on that. And when I putt it well, good things will happen. I started to hit it well last weekend and I hit it great again today."
Hideki Matsuyama (65): "I am happy with my score. I felt comfortable playing in this event in Japan. I was excited that fans were calling out my name so it surely became my motivation. We don’t normally have such big crowds. The grass here differs from that in U.S. but as I grew up in Japan, it was comfortable for me to play with that."
Daniel Berger (67): "I didn't get off to a great start and didn't hit a lot of great shots, but I hung in there and played better on the back nine and made some birdies. So good round to start the week. I hit a lot of good short iron shots and just need to continue doing the stuff that I've been doing the last couple weeks and good things will happen."
Ryo Ishikawa (68): "I failed to hole my first three or four birdie opportunities and it could have gone either way, but I stayed patient and it led to a nice birdie on 18. I was struggling afterwards, but was able to make a few up-and-downs, and also make some long par putts."
Focus on – Tiger Woods
Never write the man off. It's hard to fathom how many records Woods holds or has broken but now he has a new one. Today's 6-under 64 was his lowest round to open a season. We expected this week to be an exercise in shaking off rust but instead Woods goes wild, his nine birdies the most he's shot in a round since 2013. Ahead of the event, Woods had noted: "I'm excited about having this end-of-the-year run because I'm feeling fit. I don't have the achiness that I've been dealing with for the last couple years.” And talking through the improvements felt after his latest knee-op, Tiger revealed: "I'm able to rotate a little bit better, able to clear better, and more importantly, be able to squat down and read putts. If you look at the video from towards the end of the season, I wasn't able to do that very well." Typically, we're amazed at what he did today after no competitive golf since mid-August but Tiger isn't. "This is how I've been hitting it at home, so that wasn't a real big surprise. It’s just a matter of, with a scorecard in your hand, can you post a number now? It's actually time to grind out a score. It was ugly early so it was nice to be able to flip it and really get it going. Now I'm in a position where we're going to have a long, long weekend of golf that I hopefully can keep going." Asked about Woods' score, Ryo Ishikawa summed it up nicely: "Hearing he finished at 6 actually gave me chills."
Focus on – Friday weather
"It's playing tough out there because the wind is swirling and it's on and off. As everybody knows, a typhoon's coming," warned C.T. Pan after his Thursday 68. This could be a huge test for the field but, for gamers, a good opportunity to log who can handle and score well in high winds.
Focus on – Stats
Some more numbers from round one:
The 78-man field averaged 71.155 (+1.155 over par)
Toughest Hole: Par 4 11th (4.551)
Easiest Hole: Par 5 18th (4.551)
Positions of the four players who took part in Monday's Skins game at the course: