Tiger Woods began his 2019-20 season on an ominous note with three consecutive bogeys that included a shot into the water, another into the trees and a three-putt.
But the 43-year-old coming off knee surgery showed the mental resolve that has led to 81 previous PGA Tour victories, reeling off nine birdies over his final 14 holes to share the lead after the first round of the ZOZO Championship in Chiba, Japan.
Woods, playing for the first time since the BMW Championship in August, was set to enjoy the outright lead until U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland birdied his final hole later in the day to equal Woods with a 6-under-par 64.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the local hero who competed against Woods two days prior in The Challenge: Japan Skins, is in solo third place at 5 under. Another two shots back are Americans Daniel Berger and Ryan Palmer and South Korea’s Sung Kang.
Woods got an early look at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, finishing second in Tuesday’s event against Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. He used that intel to hit 14 consecutive greens in regulation during one stretch on Thursday.
After his trio of opening bogeys, Woods parred the 13th hole – his fourth of the day after starting on the back nine. He then birdied three consecutive holes to get back to even par and got under par for the first time with a birdie on the par-5 18th.
Woods put together another string of three consecutive birdies from Nos. 3-5 and added two more to post a 5-under 29 for his closing nine holes.
The headliner among a field chock full of marquee names, Woods was well done with his slew of post-round interviews while Woodland was still finishing his first round.
Woodland, who did not have a bogey on the day, saw his first chance to equal Woods slide left of the cup on his birdie attempt on the 17th hole. He then drove it into a fairway bunker on the 18th. Forced to lay up, Woodland was able to get up-and-down for birdie to finish the day at 6 under.
Justin Thomas, who has won four of the past 11 events held in Asia – including last week’s CJ Cup – is tied for 24th at even par. McIlroy is another two shots back after posting a 2-over 72 that included a double-bogey on the par-4 12th hole.
Day, who won the skins event, struggled to a 3-over 73 that included five bogeys. Fellow Australian Adam Scott equaled him in a tie for 58th, which was still one shot better than another former world No. 1, Jordan Spieth.
Only 24 of the 78 players in the no-cut event finished the first round under par.
This is the PGA Tour’s first official event ever held in Japan. … This is Woods’ first start in Asia since 2012 and his first in Japan since 2006. He is one victory shy of tying Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour record of 82. Woods made nine of 12 cuts last season but finished 42nd in the FedEx Cup standings. … McIlroy is also making his first start of the season. … Matsuyama is one of 11 Japanese players in the field, which also features 20 of the 30 players who qualified for the 2019 Tour Championship. … The event is co-sanctioned by the Japan Golf Tour Organization and 10 players from the JGTO will be part of the 78-player field. … Viktor Hovland, who had his record streak of under-70 rounds snapped at 19 last week, struggled to an opening-round 5-over 75.
–Derek Harper (@DerekAHarper), Field Level Media