Woods, McIlroy major draws at Japan’s star-studded PGA Tour debut

World No 2 and PGA Tour Player of the Year McIlroy, 8th-ranked Schauffele, Spieth and Woodland are just a few sprinkling more stardust

by AFP/ pic by AFP

CHIBA • Tiger Woods (picture) and Rory McIlroy are the major attractions in a world-class line-up as the US PGA Tour breaks new ground with its first tournament in Japan this week.

The inaugural Zozo Championship tees off today offering a US$9.75 million (RM40.95 million) prize pot as the middle leg of the Tour’s new near US$30 million three-tournament Asian swing.

It began last week at the US$9.75 million CJ Cup in South Korea, won by Justin Thomas, and concludes at next week’s US$10.25 million WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

Woods, who won his 15th major at this year’s US Masters, will be joined at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in front of an expected tens of thousands of golf-crazy Japanese fans by a who’s who of golf.

World No 2 and PGA Tour Player of the Year McIlroy, eighth-ranked Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and US Open Champion Gary Woodland are just a few sprinkling more stardust.

In-form Thomas will be aiming to improve his incredible strike-rate with a fifth victory in 10 starts in Asia after his second CJ Cup win in three years last Sunday elevated him to No 4 in the world.

But most eyes will be on Woods, and his troublesome left knee, after the world No 10 underwent arthroscopic surgery two months ago.

A smiling Woods said on Monday his recovery “was ahead of schedule” before he played a full 18 holes in an exhibition match on the Zozo Championship course in Chiba Prefecture.

“I’m probably a week early. My season had ended a little bit earlier than I had expected it,” said Woods. “I had the procedure a little bit early and got ahead of it.”

Japan golf fans might be seeing a lot more of Woods in the next 12 months.

The 43-year-old said one of his ambitions was to play in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“I would love to play in an Olympic Games,” he said. “Hopefully next year I can have a good year and qualify.”