Matsuyama, Schauffele headline as PGA Tour golf returns to Asia

Tokyo (AFP) –


The US PGA Tour returns to Asia for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic when Japan hosts the Zozo Championship this week, with home hero Hideki Matsuyama and Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele headlining a strong field.

Two-time major winner Collin Morikawa will also be in action at the $9.95 million event at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, east of Tokyo, from Thursday.

Other big names in the 78-man field include Tommy Fleetwood and Rickie Fowler, with 5,000 spectators allowed to watch each day as long as they wear masks at all times.

Masters champion Matsuyama will be the focus of intense home interest, while for the American Schauffele -- whose family has ties to Japan -- it will be a return to the country where he won Olympic gold in August.

The 24-year-old Morikawa, the highest-ranked player in the field at number three in the world, will also be popular because he is half-Japanese.

He was tied 22nd at the Zozo Championship in 2019, the year he turned pro, but plenty has happened since then, including major victories at the British Open and PGA Championship.

"Playing there (Zozo) in 2019, I was able to start my professional career and since then, two years later, the world has obviously changed, so has my golf game and my experience," Morikawa told the tournament's official website.

"So I look forward to hopefully contending and trying to win in Japan for the first time."

The inaugural edition of Japan's first US PGA Tour event in 2019 was memorably won by Tiger Woods -- the victory saw him tie the all-time mark of 82 PGA Tour wins held by the legendary Sam Snead.

But last year's tournament was moved to California because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There had been speculation that the Zozo Championship could be relocated again this year, after the other two tournaments on the US PGA Tour's "Asian Swing" fell victim to the pandemic.

The CJ Cup -- won by Rory McIlroy on Sunday, one shot ahead of Morikawa -- was moved from South Korea to Las Vegas.

Shanghai's World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, scheduled for October 28-31, has been cancelled for the second successive year.

Last year's Zozo Championship winner, at Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks, was Patrick Cantlay, who finished one stroke ahead of Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas.