By Andrew Both
CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) – The only thing Japanese fans want to see more than a Tiger Woods victory at the Zozo Championship this week is a win by a home grown talent.
Their two favourite sons, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryo Ishikawa, were well placed after the first round at Narashino Country Club on Thursday.
Matsuyama shot five-under-par 65 and was one stroke behind leaders Woods and Gary Woodland, while Ishikawa was four back on 68.
The sellout gallery gave the event an atmosphere like a major.
“I was excited that fans were calling out my name so it became my motivation,” said Matsuyama. “We don’t normally have such big crowds.
“It reminded me of the Japan Open three years ago when I played with (2013 Masters champion) Adam Scott.”
But Matsuyama, who was ranked as high as second in the world only two years ago, did not sound completely convinced he could stay with the leaders the rest of the way.
Asked to assess his game, he said: “If I start telling what is bad, it would be endless.”
While Matsuyama has enjoyed better success to date, Ishikawa remains a beloved figure in his homeland, 13 years after bursting onto the scene by winning a Japan Tour event as a 15-year-old amateur.
After carding an albatross in Wednesday’s pro-am, which was a wasted effort, he was solid if unspectacular on Thursday when the real action began.
“We almost had as many fans in one day as we usually have in a full week,” Ishikawa said.
“I think all the players on the PGA Tour could tell by the atmosphere how much the Japanese golf fans were looking forward to this moment. It was fresh and very exciting.”
Ishikawa said he had noted that Woods had been three over par early. The American subsequently made nine birdies and Ishikawa was certainly impressed.
“Hearing he finished at six (under) gave me chills,” he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Pritha Sarkar)