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Tiger roars back after horror start to share Japan lead

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Tiger Woods acknowledges the cheers from the huge crowds at the Narashino Country Club after his seventh birdie of the day at the fifth hole and the 14th of his round. AFP

AFP Tiger Woods tees off at the sixth hole during his opening 64 at the Zozo Championship on Thursday

Tiger Woods got off to a horrific start before roaring back with nine birdies in 15 holes to share the inaugural Zozo Championship lead in Japan Thursday as Rory McIlroy struggled.

Woods, three over after three holes, bounced back in stunning fashion with a back-nine of 29 and a six-under round of 64 to top the leaderboard alongside US Open champion Gary Woodland.

“I certainly was not expecting to shoot six-under par after that start,” admitted Woods.

“It was ugly early and it was nice to be able to flip it. Now I’m in a position where we’re going to have a long, long weekend of a lot of golf. Hopefully I can keep it going.”

The American duo head into Friday with a one-shot lead over home favourite Hideki Matsuyama at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Inzai City.

“I was excited that fans were calling out my name,” said Matsuyama, who at 27th in the world is the highest-ranked Japanese player in the event. “We don’t normally have such big crowds.”

Woodland, who won his first major at Pebble Beach in June, never looked troubled in a blemish-free round with six birdies.

“I drove the ball well. Any time I can control the ball on the greens from the fairway and make some putts, that adds up to a pretty good day,” said the world number 18.

McIlroy is ranked the second best player on the planet, but you wouldn’t have known it as he scratched around with a cold putter in a two-over 72, the low point being a double-bogey six at the 12th.

Remarkably, Woods’s 64 was the lowest season-opening round of his long career and came as the 43-year-old chases an 82nd US PGA Tour victory to tie the all-time record held by Sam Snead.

It was the most birdies Woods has scored in 18 holes since the first round of the 2013-WGC Mexico Championship.

But all that had not seemed remotely possible when Woods, who won his 15th major at the US Masters in April, creaked into action after a two-month layoff for arthroscopic left knee surgery.

Starting his round on a 10th hole lined by massive crowds more than 10 people deep, Woods dropped three shots in as many holes with three consecutive bogeys.

He steadied himself with a par at the 13th before turning his round on its head with three birdies in a row.

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