Hiroshi Iwata of Japan is playing in a PGA Tour event for the first time since 2017 and he has the lead.
The 40-year-old Iwata opened with a 7-under-par 63 to take a one-stroke lead over Japanese national hero Hideki Matsuyama and Joaquin Niemann of Chile at Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan.
“I got off to a good start, but I’m in the spotlight now and I’m done for, so please leave it alone,” joked Iwata, who said he was motivated a few days earlier when someone at the course thought he was a caddie.
“A lot happened earlier in the week. Someone asked me if I was a caddie when I was having a meal. Events like that get you more fired up to play well than someone giving you compliments. I don’t want to get into the details, but this person was not a player.”
Iwata, whose best finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for fourth in the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, started at No. 10 and made four birdies and a bogey before holing an eagle putt at No. 18, and added two birdies on a flawless back nine.
Matsuyama, the reigning Masters champion, and Niemann both collected three birdies on each nine in their bogey-free 64s.
“I’ve shot 6-under the last few tournaments on the first day and I just hope I can keep it going this time,” said Matsuyama, who had most of the 5,000 masked spectators allowed on the course following his group.
“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.”
Matt Wallace of England had four birdies on his back nine and is fourth after a 65, while Brendan Steele of Idyllwild and UC Riverside is fifth following a 66 after opening with an eagle on the 10th hole and closing with a birdie at No. 9.
Cameron Tringale of Mission Viejo birdied four of the last six holes to shoot 67 and is in a tie fir sixth with Tommy Fleetwood of England, who eagled Nos. 6 and 18, Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, Matt Jones of Australia, Kramer Hickok, Ryosuke Kinoshita of Japan and Adam Schenk.
Will Zalatoris, the 2020-21 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, is tied for 21st at 69; fifth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, who captured the Olympic Gold Medal in Japan in August, shot 70 and is tied for 29th, while fifth-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal, who won the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in July, totaled 71 and is tied for 42nd.
For complete results, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html