It was a roaring Tiger Woods and not the golfer affectionately known as ‘Rors’ who sensationally roared into the lead remarkably turning around three opening bogeys to complete his closing 14 holes in nine-under par and snatch the lead with what the 15-time Major winner described as a ‘crazy’ 64 on day one of the inaugural ZoZo Championship in Japan.
Woods’ score of six-under par 64 was his lowest round since a last day similar score to finish a gallant second to Brooks Koepka in the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive in Kentucky.
It handed the 81-time PGA Tour winner a one-stroke lead ahead of local Japanese hero, Hideki Matsuyama and reigning US Open champion, Gary Woodland on the host par-70 Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club course.
In stark contrast, Rory McIlroy posted a mistake-ridden two-over par 72 that included just three birdies but also three bogeys and a clumsy 12th hole double-bogey that sees him trailing eight shots adrift of Woods.
Open Champion, Shane Lowry heads the trio of Irish after grabbing a 17th hole birdie to be sharing 33rd place in the elite 78-player field, one shot ahead of McIlroy.
Graeme McDowell tumbled to last place in posting a horror 11-over par 81 that included not one birdie but also two double-bogeys and a shock closing hole triple-bogey ‘8’.
Though the story of the day was clearly Woods.
In his first event of the new 2019/19 wraparound PGA Tour schedule, and his first event since further surgery, Woods clearly delighted a huge following in producing three birdies in succession from the fifth hole of his round and then birdied his ninth to make the turn at one-under par.
Woods then grabbed a second hat-trick of birdies from his 12th hole before ending his remarkable days work with birdies on his 16th and closing hole for a one-stroke lead.
“I certainly was not expecting to shoot 6-under par after that start,” he said smiling.
“That was a very ugly start and to be able to flip it like that, I felt that if I could get to under par for the day after that start, I figure most of the guys would be about 2, 3 under par with the wind blowing as hard as it was today, that I wouldn’t be that far behind. It flipped and I got hot and made a bunch of putts.
“It’s always nice to get off to a quick start and figure it out from there. 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.
The Masters champion quickly found his game though, making birdies on four of his next six holes to get to 1-under, two strokes behind with nine holes to play.
“I thought my, 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 was telling Joey coming down nine, one of the stranger rounds I’ve experienced in a while, seems like every putt I made other than the one at seven was a left-to-righter.
“It was crazy. 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.”
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.
“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.”