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Matsuyama grabs lead with stunning late birdies


WASHINGTON: Hideki Matsuyama birdied two of the last three holes, including a spectacular closing 67-foot putt, to seize the lead after Thursday’s first round of the PGA’s BMW Championship.

The 28-year-old Japanese star, seeking his first US PGA victory since the 2017 WGC Bridgestone Invitational, fired a three-under par 67 in windy conditions at Olympia Fields.

That gave him a one-stroke lead over American Tyler Duncan and a two-shot edge on Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes, the only other players to break par in the US PGA Tour play-off event.

“I’m not sure really what I had going today,” Matsuyama said. “But that last putt, that long putt that went in, very happy with that one, so we’ll remember that one.”

The top 30 players in FedEx Cup points after the BMW advance to next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, with Duncan and Hughes needing to move up to reach the season finale.

The suburban Chicago layout, host course for the 2003 US Open, imposed the highest scoring average of any 2019-20 PGA opening round, more than 2.5 strokes over par.

Matsuyama opened bogey-birdie-bogey on the back nine, added a birdie at 14 but another bogey at 18, but his fortunes changed on the front side.

Matsuyama tapped in for birdie at the par-5 first, sank an 11-footer for birdie at the second, dropped in a 21-foot birdie putt at the seventh and seized the lead with a stunner at the ninth.

“I made some mistakes early but I was able to come back and play good golf toward the end, so it was a good day,” Matsuyama said.

“Greens were firm and playing really tough. There’s some water holes that you’ve got to avoid, but all in all, I played good and was able to stay out of trouble.”

Duncan, who sank two birdies from inside six feet to begin his round, answered his lone bogey at 12 with a 13-foot birdie putt at 14. He made all 16 putts he had inside 10 feet.

“It was a grind,” Duncan said. “I drove it well and scrambled well and those were the two biggest factors I thought it was going to take to do well this week.

“It’s firm and fast and the rough is long. It’s all you want.”

Hughes opened with a 32-foot birdie putt at the 10th hole, sank a 22-footer at one to start his back nine and dropped in a four-foot birdie at the third, but followed it with back-to-back bogeys.

“The course wasn’t giving up a lot of birdies,” Hughes said. “You had to be patient and accept you were going to make birdies here and there. It was a great test.”

Late bogeys foil Tiger

Tiger Woods ranks 57th in points, needing a top-six finish to have a chance at reaching Atlanta, but the 15-time major winner closed with three consecutive bogeys to shoot 73.

Woods, who began on the back nine, took a bogey at the 11th but answered by rolling in a 28-foot birdie putt at 14. He missed a par putt from just inside five feet at the par-3 16th but pulled level again on a seven-foot par putt at the par-4 second.

Reigning Masters champion Woods, who found only six of 14 fairways, rescued par from eight feet at the third hole, just under five feet on the fourth and from six feet on the fifth to stay two off the lead.

But he came up nine feet short from 35 feet out of greenside rough at the par-4 seventh and missed his par putt to fall from a share of eighth, then missed a four-footer to bogey the par-3 eighth and found a fairway bunker on his way to a bogey at nine.

“Not the way I wanted to finish,” Woods said. “But the golf course is playing difficult for sure.” — AFP

BMW Championship first-round scores

(USA unless noted, par 70):

67 - Hideki Matsuyama (JPN)

68 - Tyler Duncan

69 - Mackenzie Hughes (CAN)

70 - Harry Higgs, Tony Finau, Billy Horschel, Lanto Griffin, Sebastian Munoz (COL), Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG), Carlos Ortiz (MEX), Mark Hubbard, Rory McIlroy (NIR), Abraham Ancer (MEX)

71 - Ryan Palmer, Dustin Johnson, Jim Herman, Joel Dahmen, Tom Hoge, Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland (NOR)

72 - Brendan Steele, Brian Harman, Alex Noren (SWE), Adam Long, Joaquin Niemann (CHI), Kevin Na, Dylan Frittelli (RSA), Bubba Watson, JT Poston, Adam Scott (AUS), Matthew Wolff, Kevin Kisner, Michael Thompson, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA)

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