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Tiger Woods produces stunning fightback to share lead but Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell struggle at Zozo Championship

Tiger Woods shares the leads (Lee Jin-man/AP)
Tiger Woods shares the leads (Lee Jin-man/AP)

Tiger Woods produced a brilliant fightback to claim a share of the lead while Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell both struggled during the first round of the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan.

Woods was three over par after three holes at Narashino Country Club, but played the remaining 15 holes in nine under par to card an opening 64, which was matched by US Open champion Gary Woodland.

Home favourite Hideki Matsuyama is a shot off the lead following a 65, but world number two Rory McIlroy is eight strokes off the pace after struggling to a two over par 72.

McIlroy was one under par at the turn after back-to-back birdies on the seventh and eighth holes but a bogey followed by a double-bogey on 11 and 12 proved a significant set-back. A further drop-shot at the 16th was counteracted by a closing birdie to leave the world number two in a share of 47th place.

That is still significantly better off than compatriot Graeme McDowell, who props up the 78-man field after slumping to an 11-over-par 81 which included a back nine of 45, featuring two double bogeys and a closing triple.

Joint-leader Woods began his round on the back nine and got off to a nightmare start as he pulled his drive on the 10th into the water to make the first of three consecutive bogeys.

The 15-time major winner steadied the ship with a par on the 13th before posting a hat-trick of birdies from the 14th and picked up another shot on the 18th to reach the turn in one under.

Woods made his second hat-trick of birdies from the third and further birdies on the seventh and ninth completed an inward nine of 29 to boost his chances of claiming the 82nd PGA Tour title of his career, equalling the record of Sam Snead.

“I was just trying to turn it to even par at the turn, that’s basically my goal, and I was able to squeeze one more out of it and lo and behold I had the easier side I’m going to and hopefully I can squeeze a couple more out of it and I did a couple more better than that, which was nice,” Woods told the Golf Channel.

“It’s always nice to get off to a quick start and then figure it out from there, but that start I got off to wasn’t very good.

“I hit bad shot after bad shot after bad shot and then a three-wiggle (three-putt) at 12 and next thing you knew things aren’t looking very good.

“After the start the ball-striking was better, the putting was really good. It was one of the stranger rounds I’ve experienced in a while. It seems like every putt I made, other than the one at seven, was left to right. It was crazy.”

Bad weather is forecast for the second round on Friday and Woods is anticipating some disruption to play for the remainder of the first PGA Tour event to be staged in Japan.

“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 wet, and then it’s going to be a grind on the weekend,” the 43-year-old added.

“It’s going to be a lot of golf on the weekend for all of us and probably be close to 54 holes or so for some of the guys on the weekend. It will be a long couple of days for us.”

England’s Paul Casey leads the European challenge on one under par, with Sergio Garcia a shot further back and Open champion Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter all shooting one over.

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