Even without a breath of wind, perfect course conditions and ideal temperatures for golf, Narashino Country Club outside of Tokyo played plenty tough on Thursday during the first round of the Zozo Championship. It was quite the changeup from the Vegas Swing, which featured a pair of predictable PGA Tour birdiefests, the winner reaching at least 24 under over four days on both occasions.
There will be no 24 unders this week though, as Narashino played even harder on Friday thanks to our good ol’ friend Mother Nature. Cold temperatures and consistent rain throughout the round wreaked havoc on the field, with four-under-par 66 tying for low round of the day and 30 players shooting two over or worse. After 36 holes, just 29 of the 78 players in the field are under par.
Among that group is Brendan Steele, who surprised himself by shooting a two-under 68 in the trying elements.
“This was a day that I’ve been concerned about for quite a while,” said Steele, referring to the weather. “I’m from California, I do not play in the rain. When it rains, I stay inside. My game doesn’t usually translate that well to the weather.”
It has so far, with Steele pulling within two shots of Hideki Matsuyama’s lead, the local hero shooting a 68 after his opening 64 in a quest for his seventh PGA Tour win. Joaquin Niemann didn’t fare quite as well, shooting a one-over 71. But that was a small victory considering how he started his round.
“Yeah, it wasn’t easy. Starting I think off No. 10, you’ve got No. 10, 11, 12, they were not playing easy, hitting 5-irons to the green,” said Niemann, who began his day bogey-bogey. “But after that I played really solid. I was lucky to have a nice group where we enjoyed it a little bit more, tried to forget a little bit the weather. It was freezing, couldn’t feel my hands and I managed to have a good round, so I’m happy.”