DUBLIN (Ohio) • Hideki Matsuyama was more relieved than anything after he holed out for an eagle at the 17th and surged into a three-way lead at the Memorial Tournament on Thursday.
He was tied with Abraham Ancer and Joaquin Niemann on seven-under 65. Although it was only the first round, it was a positive result for the Japanese who withdrew from the Phoenix Open in February with a left-wrist injury that kept him sidelined for six weeks.
Matsuyama has not had a top-10 finish since the Sentry Tournament of Champions to start the year (tied for fourth). He also missed his first cut of this season in the Players Championship last month, and was in danger of dropping outside the top 10.
But Thursday's opening round - in which he had seven birdies along with two bogeys - at Muirfield Village saw glimpses of his former dominant self.
"I made two birdies in Nos. 4 and 5 and that lifted off the pressure. It's a tough course, but today's game taught me that I can get a good score if I hit solid shots, both long and short," Matsuyama told Kyodo News.
"As the round went along, I played better and better," added the 26-year-old, who clinched his first PGA Tour win at the Memorial four years ago.
"It (the injury) has been frustrating. In the past, even if I wasn't playing well, I could still get it around, get it in the hole.
"So the last couple of months have been trying. I'm just really glad that I was able to play well today and post a good score at the start."
Five-time Memorial winner Tiger Woods also finished strongly, fighting back from four over through seven holes to post an even-par 72.
Woods, who insisted a "stiff" back that bothered him in the early going was nothing to worry about as he continues his comeback from back surgery, birdied three in a row on his inward run.
"I just have days like that," a smiling Woods said of his back.
"It's ageing and it's surgeries. It is what it is. Just got to make the adjustments."
American Beau Hossler was alone in fourth on 66 while four others, including former US Open champion Lucas Glover, shared fifth on 67.
World No. 1 Justin Thomas and the player he supplanted atop the rankings, Dustin Johnson, were at even par and tied with Woods in 47th spot.
Day 3: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 12.30am