Tiger Woods recovered from an “ugly” start to finish with a share of the lead after the opening round of the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan Thursday.
The 15-time major champion began with a shot into the water and bogeyed his first three holes before mounting an impressive comeback for a six-under 64 to tie with fellow American Gary Woodland, the US Open champion.
Woods, who is playing his first regular-season event since knee surgery in August, fired nine birdies in 15 holes as he chases his 82nd PGA Tour title to tie the all-time record of Sam Snead.
“I certainly was not expecting to shoot six-under-par after that start,” said Woods, who is the captain of the US team for December’s Presidents Cup in Australia.
“That was a very ugly start and I felt that if I could get to under par for the day — I figured most of the guys would be about two, three under par with the wind blowing as hard as it was — that I wouldn’t be that far behind. But it flipped and I got hot and made a bunch of putts.”
The 43-year-old ended his 10-year major drought in April when he won a fifth Masters.
Woods, who warmed up in Japan with a made-for-TV exhibition match against Rory McIIroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama last weekend, is reaping the rewards of arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
“I was trying to make compensations,” said the world No. 10, who had spine fusion surgery in 2017. “Unfortunately, with the lack of movement that I had in my knee, my back took it and that’s the last place I want to feel it.
“So, it was nice to be able to feel that I’m able to rotate a little bit better, able to clear better, and more importantly, be able to squat down and read putts.
“I was able to get down there today, which I’ve been doing at home, and that’s something that if you look at the video towards the end of the season, I wasn’t able to do very well.”
Local favorite Matsuyama finished a shot off the lead, with world No. 2 McIlroy eight strokes adrift after a 72 at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba.
With bad weather scheduled for Friday, the tee times for the second round have been moved forward an hour, but play could still be disrupted.
“It’s going to be sloppy and tough for us tomorrow morning before the storm gets in and I think we’re probably going to get a little bit wet while we’re playing out there tomorrow and then it’s going to be a grind on the weekend,” Woods said.
“Hopefully I can keep it going.”