Hideki Matsuyama. Credit Getty Images

Hideki Matsuyama fought off lower back pain to fire a first round of 5-under 67 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard on Thursday to lie one shot back of leader Shane Lowry.

The Japanese star, who won the Genesis Invitational in his last start three weeks ago, chipped in for eagle on the par-5 16th hole to add to five birdies and two bogeys as he matched his lowest score at Bay Hill in what is his 10th successive start in the US$20 million PGA TOUR Signature Event.

Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan birdied two of his last three holes for a 71, and was matched by Korean duo Sungjae Im and Byeong Hun An. Lowry, a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR used a superb inward 31 to take the first round lead with a fine 66.

Matsuyama, who now holds the record of most PGA TOUR wins by an Asian golfer with nine titles, started the week with a sore back but navigated his way around Bay Hill brilliantly to end the day in tied second place.

“My back was not feeling perfect but I was kind of hitting, kind of protecting myself. I feel like I was able to keep the momentum from the previous tournament, so I think that really helped,” said Matsuyama, who hit 10 fairways and 14 greens in regulation.

In relatively calm conditions, the 2021 Masters champion started strongly with an 18-foot birdie on the first hole before adding two more birdies on the fourth and fifth holes from inside of four feet. He traded two more birdies against as many bogeys after the turn, and chipped in for eagle on 16 from off the green.

“No expectation for today’s round, but I was able to keep the good round going all day. With no wind, and Bay Hill, that’s pretty rare, so I think that really helped,” he said.

With his record victory at the Genesis Invitational, which is hosted by Tiger Woods, and his maiden PGA TOUR title at the 2014 Memorial Tournament, which is hosted by Jack Nicklaus, Matsuyama is eyeing a unique treble of wins as this week’s event is held in honour of the late Arnold Palmer.

There was a slight concern when he revealed at the start of the week that he was up against a sore back but he gritted his teeth to enjoy a fast start.  “It happened maybe like two years ago. It didn’t get worse since then,” said Matsuyama, who has dealt with a neck injury as well previously. “But my leg is a little numb right now, so it’s really not the perfect condition.”

Europe’s Ryder Cup star Lowry brushed off his poor record at Bay Hill to seize a one-stroke lead ahead of Matsuyama and Justin Lower. “It’s horrific,” laughed Lowry, who has missed four cuts in five starts at Bay Hill. “My best finish here is tied 67th or something. Going out there with very low expectations today. I knew I was playing well. Golf’s a funny game. Just had it under control. I’ve struggled with it over the years. Obviously a great tournament, a huge tournament, and I’m very happy with that today.”


First-Round Notes – Thursday, March 7, 2024

Weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 82. Wind variable 5-10 mph.

First-Round Leaderboard

Pos. Player R1
1 Shane Lowry 66 (-6)
T2 Justin Lower 67 (-5)
T2 Hideki Matsuyama 67 (-5)
T4 Russell Henley 68 (-4)
T4 Lee Hodges 68 (-4)
T4 Sam Burns 68 (-4)
T4 Sahith Theegala 68 (-4)


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