Hideki Matsuyama will carry with him one of the few good memories from an otherwise grim week. The 28-year-old Japanese star equaled the TPC Sawgrass course record, shooting a nine-under 63 on Thursday to take a two-stroke lead at the Players Championship when the first round was halted for darkness. However, a few hours later, the PGA Tour announced that it was canceling the rest of the tournament due to the continued concerns over the COVID-19 virus, leaving Matsuyama's feat into a moot accomplishment.
Despite his youth, it's reasonable to say that Matsuyama, ranked 21st in the world, is in the midst of a comeback, having spent the better part of two years in the top 10 in the world and rising as high as second for a time, before slipping to 32nd late last season.
But he finished second in the Zozo Championship, tied for fifth in the Genesis Invitational and tied for sixth in the WGC-Mexico Championship in this season.
His round on Thursday included eight birdies, an eagle and one bogey. He leds by two over Harris English, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Si Woo Kim in an early bid to win for the sixth time on the PGA Tour before play was called Thursday night.
“I’ve been working hard and have a lot of confidence now in my swing,” Matsuyama said. “Last week was a tough week at Bay Hill, but today I made some putts and that seems to be the difference of late and that was really the catapult to me to have a good round today.”
Matsuyama is the fifth player to open the Players with a 63, joining Greg Norman in 1994, Roberto Castro in 2013, Martin Kaymer in 2014 and Jason Day in 2016. Of the last four, only Castro failed to go on to win.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, shot an even-par 72.
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