Jazz off to a hot start with fine 64
TOKYO: Unheralded Austrian Sepp Straka was the surprise leader after a weather-interrupted first round of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics golf tournament yesterday as home favourite Hideki Matsuyama and British Open champion Collin Morikawa suffered frustrating starts.
World No.161 Straka took advantage of early benign conditions to set the pace with an Olympic record-equalling eight-under-par 63 at the par-71 Kasumigaseki Country Club.
He leads by a stroke from Thailand's former Asian Tour Order of Merit winner Jazz Janewattananond.
Belgium's Thomas Pieters and Mexican Carlos Ortiz were a stroke further back on six-under 65.
Another Thai hope Gunn Charoenkul began his campaign with an even par 71.
Matsuyama and Morikawa both finished at two-under 69, either side of play being suspended for more than two hours in the afternoon because of a lightning storm.
"Just simply I didn't play well today," lamented Matsuyama who has not played since the US Open in June because of testing positive for Covid-19.
World No.3 Morikawa is spearheading a powerful four-man USA team in a tournament that had some of the gloss taken off by the late Covid withdrawals of world No.1 Jon Rahm of Spain and American Bryson DeChambeau.
Best of the Americans was Xander Schauffele, whose sleep was interrupted by a power outage at his hotel on Wednesday night, but still fired a three-under 68.
"An emergency light came on," said Schauffele. "We had to unscrew a light bulb or sleep with the lights on. It was out for probably five hours."
On the same score was countryman Patrick Reed, who only arrived on Wednesday from the United States as a late replacement for DeChambeau, did not have a practice round and only "about 35 minutes of sleep" because of jet lag.
Ireland's four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, playing with Morikawa, was another big name unable to find his best in a two-under 69. Fellow Irishman Shane Lowry, the 2019 Open champion, shot a one-under 70.
Low scoring had been expected, despite punishing rough, after a massive thunderstorm swept through the area overnight, softening the 7,447-yard course, and enabling players to fire at the pins.
Straka, who had missed six cuts in his last seven outings on the PGA Tour, took control with three birdies in a row from the 13th to reach seven-under par.
"Those are holes where if you just put it in the fairway on this course you can really take advantage and I got hot with my irons. Was really knocking down the flag stick," said Straka before another birdie at 17 saw him finish at eight-under.
Paul Casey of Britain kept in the hunt with a four-under 67 while teammate Tommy Fleetwood, who said this week he was "loving" his Olympic experience, opened with a 70.