Rickie Fowler finds his groove in Zozo Championship opening round

Rickie Fowler got off to a hot start on Thursday at the Zozo Championship.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

It’s Thursday morning in the United States, but the first round of this week’s PGA Tour event, the 2022 Zozo Championship, is already complete.

Unlike the first three tournaments of the new season, the Zozo is not located in the States, but at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan. Thanks to a major time zone difference, players teed off late Wednesday night for viewers on the East Coast, completing their rounds early Thursday morning.

If you weren’t diehard enough to stay up all night and watch the action live on Golf Channel, we’ve got you covered. Here are three things you need to know about the opening round of the Zozo Championship.

Fowler finds his groove

Rickie Fowler has high hopes of making a big comeback this season, but his results have been mixed so far. The 33-year-old fan favorite opened his season with a promising T6 at the Fortinet Championship, but then followed that up with a missed cut at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open in Vegas.

Rickie Fowler hits a shot during a practice round of the Zozo Championship on Wednesday.
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Through one round at the Zozo, it’s already clear that he brought the A-game he displayed at the Fortinet all the way to Japan. Fowler made an impressive total of seven birdies in Round 1 at Narashino Country Club, including a clutch closing birdie at the par-5 18th. He might be in the lead if not for an unfortunate double-bogey 6 on the 11th hole to go with two other bogeys.

All in all, Fowler finished with a three-under 67 that leaves him tied with Xander Schuaffele and others three shots off the lead.

Steele starts strong

Despite not winning, Brendan Steele had a solid season on Tour in 2021-22. He collected 4 top-10s and made 15 cuts to finish 61st in the FedEx Cup standings. His best finish by far, though, came at none other than the 2021 Zozo Championship, where he finished T2 at 10 under to earn $875,600.

Now Steele is trying to one-up himself at this year’s Zozo, and through 18 holes he’s already more than halfway to his total score from 2021.

Steele started slow with one birdie on the front before going off on the back. He made back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11 and then incredibly birdied his final four holes to finish with a six-under 64, good enough for a one-shot lead over Adam Schenk.

Heartbreak for Hideki

Hideki Matsuyama is the most famous golfer in Japan, and it’s not just because of his Masters win in 2021. Matsuyama has also put on a great showing at the PGA Tour’s only event held in Japan. In 2019 at the first playing of the Zozo, he nearly pulled off a win in front of his home crowd, only to finish runner-up to Tiger Woods, who earned his record-tying 82nd career win there.

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When the Zozo returned to Japan last year for the first time since 2019, Matsuyama didn’t waste the opportunity, cruising to a five-shot win to cement his legend in his home country.

But things are going very differently this year. Beginning the first round with designs on defending his title, Matsuyama struggled to get off the launch pad on Thursday, making just two birdies against three bogeys to shoot a one-over 71. It’s still early, but Matsuyama may have already played himself out of a shot at going back-to-back.

Kevin Cunningham

Kevin Cunningham

Golf.com Editor

As managing producer for GOLF.com, Cunningham edits, writes and publishes stories on GOLF.com, and manages the brand’s e-newsletters, which reach more than 1.4 million subscribers each month. A former two-time intern, he also helps keep GOLF.com humming outside the news-breaking stories and service content provided by our reporters and writers, and works with the tech team in the development of new products and innovative ways to deliver an engaging site to our audience.