Unheralded Austrian Sepp Straka was the surprise leader after a weather-interrupted first round of the Tokyo Olympics golf tournament Thursday 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 a bogey-free eight-under-par 63 at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
He leads by a stroke from Thailand’s former Asian Tour Order of Merit winner Jazz Janewattananond.
Matsuyama and Morikawa both finished at a two-under-par 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,” said Matsuyama, who has not played since the US Open in June because he tested positive for Covid-19.
“Towards the end there was a little bit of a mental fatigue and my focus kind of faded away,” he admitted.
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-19-enforced withdrawals of world No 1 one Jon Rahm of Spain and American Bryson DeChambeau.
“I’ve got a couple things to figure out,” admitted the man who swept to his second Major win at Royal St George’s less than two weeks ago. “Like how to play a little better in the middle of the fairway the next few days.”
World No 4 Justin Thomas, who has won four of his 14 PGA Tour titles in Asia, saw a series of putts lip out as he recorded 18 straight pars for a 71.
“It’s really hard. I would love to have some kind of old useless club that I could break over my knee right now,” said a frustrated Thomas.
“I’m hitting good putts and they’re just lipping out instead of lipping in.”
The 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 his 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.
“Adrenaline got me going early on today, which allowed me to kind of keep going, but really the body hung in there,” said Reed.
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.
“It was sort of an inefficient scoring day, said McIlroy. “I drove it into the middle of the fairway on the three par fives and made three pars. From those positions I should be making birdies.”
Low scoring had been expected, despite punishing rough, after a massive thunderstorm swept through the area overnight, softening the 7,447-yard par-71 course.
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, whose final birdie came at the 17th.
Thomas Pieters finished two strokes behind playing partner Straka but revealed he had been ill. “I felt horrible this morning,” said the Belgian. Joining him on 65, was Mexico’s world No 61 Carlos Ortiz.
Paul Casey of Britain kept in the hunt with a four under 67 and was delighted at his first taste of the Olympics.
“So cool that was,” beamed Casey. “Not an ounce of nerves, a 100% excitement, which is really, really cool.
“I thought about it for so long, because to me you can’t class yourself an Olympian until you’ve actually started your competition.”
© Agence France-Presse