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Hiroshi Iwata zooms to top at Zozo Championship; Hideki Matsuyama 1 back

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Hiroshi Iwata shot a 7-under 63 in the opening round Thursday to lead the Zozo Championship in his homeland of Japan, one shot ahead of countryman Hideki Matsuyama.

An eagle on the par-5 18th was the highlight for Iwata, who added six birdies and a bogey just days after learning he would be in the tournament field.

“On 18th, I got nervous as there were many spectators around the green, but making an eagle there made me feel good, especially after two birdies in a row,” Iwata said.

Iwata, 40, was added to the field on Monday as an alternate following the withdrawal of Kevin Na.

“If possible, I am hoping that I don’t get extra attention any more, to focus on playing my game,” Iwata said. “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.”

Iwata leads Matsuyama and 22-year-old Joaquin Niemann of Chile by one shot at Narashino Country Club course in Chiba, Japan.

Niemann’s bogey-free 64 has him excited for Friday.

“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,” said Niemann after the first round was completed. “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. Obviously, we got a nice day, we had a lot of fun. It was a fun round.”

Iwata made his first start since 2017. He missed the cut in eight of his past 10 PGA Tour events.

England’s Matt Wallace shot 65 and is alone in fourth place, one ahead of American Brendan Steele.

–Field Level Media

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