Hiroshi Iwata Holds One-Stroke Lead over Joaquin Niemann, Hideki Matsuyama After ZOZO Championship First Round

The Sendai native finished with six birdies and capped the round with an eagle on the par-5 18th hole in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture.

Hiroshi Iwata hits an approach shot on the ninth hole in the first round of the ZOZO Championship on October 21 at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.

Hiroshi Iwata carded a 7-under 63 to grab the lead after the first round of the ZOZO Championship on Thursday, October 21.

The 40-year-old Sendai native made six birdies, including on Nos. 16 and 17, before finishing with an eagle on the par-5 18th hole at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture.

Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama were both one shot off the pace at 6-under 64. An estimated crowd of 5,000 attended the day’s event.

“I think starting on the first hole I slipped on the first tee a little bit on my right foot and I hit a terrible drive,” Niemann was quoted as saying by Golf Digest after the opening round. “Yeah, I think making [par] there was huge, gave me more confidence in knowing that I could have a good day. And after that I started playing great, hitting fairways, hitting good shots into the green, making good putts, which is always nice.”

Matsuyama, who opened with a birdie, shot 31 over the first nine holes to begin the PGA Tour tournament in fine form. The popular golfer had a three putt on the 18th hole and shot an even-par 5 before walking off the course with a bogey-free round.

“I’ve shot six-under the last few tournaments on the first day and I just hope I can keep it going this time,” Matsuyama said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Matsuyama said, “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.”

Britain’s Matt Wallace, who led the field with seven birdies in the opening round, shot a 5-under 65. Brendan Steele of the United States finished with a 4-under 66.

Seven golfers completed the day with 3-under 67s: Ryosuke Kinoshita, Kramer Hickok, Adam Schenk, Cameron Tringale, Jhonattan Vegas, Matt Jones and Tommy Fleetwood.

English-born Fleetwood was pleased to wrap up the opening round with a birdie.

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“Yeah, the 18th, I played the hole perfect. A drive down the fairway and then a four-iron to like 10 feet and knocked it in,” Fleetwood was quoted as saying by AFP. “Then six. I’m always saying I’m going to hole a bunker shot and I never do, so it was actually nice to pull one off.”

Olympic champion Xander Schauffele and American Rickie Fowler were among 13 players who shot even-par 70s on the 7,041-yard course. British Open winner Collin Morikawa finished with a 1-over 71.

Iwata Relieved After Getting Phone Call

The tournament’s inaugural round was held in 2019, with Tiger Woods winning the title. Last year’s tourney took place in California due to travel restrictions during the global pandemic, and 2020 winner Patrick Cantlay is skipping this week’s event.

Overnight leader Iwata, a three-time Japan Golf Tour winner, was a late entry into the ZOZO Championship. He was informed that he qualified on Monday, October 18.

“I don’t answer the phone when I’m sleeping, and I don’t answer when I wake up, but I’m worried because it’s ringing so much,” Iwata told reporters after the first round, according to Tokyo Sports. “I’m getting a call from someone who knows I won’t answer. I was prepared, so I [had] low tension.”

Iwata, who shot a 63 in the second round of the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, demonstrated he was prepared to contend throughout the 18 holes. This included four birdies and the aforementioned eagle on the back nine.

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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