Zozo Championship: Masters champ Hideki Matsuyama says his game is currently a 1 out of 10 but proceeds to shoot 64

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Hometown hero Hideki Matsuyama didn’t disappoint his faithful as the PGA Tour returned to his native Japan for the Zozo Championship.

Matsuyama, who solidified his rock-star status at home by winning the Masters in April, surprised even himself with his flawless play in the opening round. He birdied two of his first three holes and fired a bogey-free 6-under 64 at Accordia Golf Narashino, located just east of Tokyo. That score was good enough to tie Chile’s Joaquin Niemann for the second-best score of the day and leave both players one stroke off the lead. On the eve of the tournament, Matsuyama downplayed his chances for success.

“If my game scored 10 out of 10 at the Masters, now I would say it scores less than 1,” he said. “I will be struggling this week but I am here in Japan so I am motivated to be in contention.”

Indeed, the 29-year-old Matsuyama’s form has slipped below his high standards since becoming the first Japanese male golfer to win a major. He has recorded just two top-10 finishes since his major moment. In the aftermath of his triumph, he returned to Japan with the Green Jacket in tow and received the Prime Minister’s Award. He also competed in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, losing out to C.T. Pan in a playoff for a bronze medal.

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ZOZO Championship - Round One
ZOZO Championship - Round One

Matsuyama returned to Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in the Chiba Prefecture with fond memories, having finished second to Tiger Woods in 2019 at the inaugural Zozo Championship. (Last year’s tournament was held in California due to the global pandemic.) While the Olympics were played in front of no spectators, the Zozo is allowing limited fans this week and Matsuyama received a hero’s welcome.

“Hideki’s the hometown boy,” said American gold medalist Xander Schauffele, who played alongside him in the first round. “No matter what I do, if the Olympics were in Japan for the rest of my life and I won every time, I think Hideki would still be the No. 1 guy. That’s just how it is and that’s how it should be.”

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama tees off on the 17th hole during the first round of the Zozo Championship at the Narashino Country Club. (Photo by TAKASHI AOYAMA/AFP via Getty Images)

But Matsuyama wasn’t even the low Japanese golfer during the first round. That honor belonged to Hiroshi Iwata, who concentrates on playing the Japan Golf Tour and was making his first start on the PGA Tour since 2017. Iwata, 40, made an eagle and six birdies en route to carding 7-under 63 to grab the lead.

Matsuyama rolled in birdies on three of his first six holes, including reaching the par-5 sixth in two with a beautiful hybrid to 10 feet. He nearly holed a bunker shot at the ninth during a stretch of six pars in a row before back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 and one more circle on the card at 17, where he nearly holed his second shot. Matsuyama’s ball-striking was as sharp as ever. He ranked first in greens in regulation in the first round, hitting 16 of 18 greens. His round of 64 marked his lowest tournament score, besting the pair of 65s he shot during the first and third rounds in 2019.

“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,” he said.

But Matsuyama hopes his hot start doesn’t prove to be another desert mirage. Optimism that the six-time PGA Tour titleholder and eight-time Japan Golf Tour champ might get back to his winning ways rose after fast starts at the previous two PGA Tour events held in Las Vegas, but faded quickly as he dropped back to finishes of T-67 at the Shriners Children’s Open and T-59 at the CJ Cup at Summit.

“I shot 6 under at Shriners, 6 under at CJ again and so again, I just hope I can keep the momentum going for the rest of the week this time,” he said.

All of Japan will be rooting for him to do just that.