Ryo Ishikawa of Japan woke up to learn of devastation at home and managed to keep his mind on golf Friday, finishing off a first round of 7-under 65 that left him one shot behind in the Cadillac Championship.
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Ishikawa always checks the news each morning, and this was a stunner — one of the largest earthquakes to hit Japan spawned a tsunami that slammed the eastern coast and left hundreds dead or missing.
”I was able to communicate with my family,” Ishikawa said. ”If not for that, it would have been extremely difficult.”
He said he lives about 250 miles away from Sendai, the city closest to the center of the epicenter of the 8.9 magnitude quake.
Hunter Mahan faced seven holes to complete the opening round and shot 64 to take the lead. Tiger Woods added a birdie in three holes for a 70, while Phil Mickelson hit two balls into the water on the par-5 eighth for a double bogey and a 73.
Martin Kaymer, in his second week at No. 1 in the world, opened with a 66.
Even so, most of the attention was on the 19-year-old sensation. Ishikawa already has won nine times on the Japan Golf Tour, the first one as a 15-year-old amateur. His star treatment in Japan is as close to what Woods gets as any other golfer in the world.
Only this time, the questions about golf were limited.
”If you can imagine, it’s beyond being a distraction for me,” said Ishikawa, who chose to use an interpreter. ”I’m worried for the whole country. The fact that I was finally able to communicate with my parents did help me feel so much better. I just tried to focus, but it is a battle out there for me.”
He said even in hometown of Saitama, the magnitude was 5.0, ”so I just hope that everybody else around will be safe, as well.”
With so much on his mind, it was a remarkable debut at Doral for Ishikawa. He had to miss this World Golf Championship a year ago because of his high school graduation.
Despite his overwhelming success in Japan – Ishikawa shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns last year – it has not translated well in America. His best finish was reaching the third round of the Match Play Championship a year ago. He has made the cut in only two of the five U.S. majors he has played.
This was a strong start, especially with a chilly, whipping wind that he faced for the six holes Friday to complete the first round. The opening round was delayed because of a storm system that topped two TV towers and the monster scoreboard on Thursday.
”Wide fairways, no out-of-bounds,” Ishikawa said in English with a smile as he walked away from his interview. ”I like this course.”
Mahan, the only American to win the last five World Golf Championships, apparently feels the same way. He missed only two greens in the opening round, failing to save par from a front bunker on No. 7, which played into the wind.
He answered with a wedge downwind to inside a foot for birdie on the eighth to atone for his only mistake.
Kaymer picked up a late birdie on the 16th to finish two shots back.
”Yesterday it was a scoring day,” Kaymer said. ”There were a lot of birdie chances. Today, you have to keep it together to make pars.”
The group at 67 included Nick Watney and Luke Donald, who at No. 3 in the world played in the 1-2-3 grouping with Kaymer and Lee Westwood. Westwood made three bogeys before finishing with a birdie for a 70.
Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Vijay Singh were in the group at 68.
Woods and Mickelson went opposite directions in the three holes they played. Mickelson followed a bogey on No. 7 with two shots in the water at the par-5 eighth. The tee shot landed on a cart path and bounced into the water, and his next shot caught a slope leading up to the green and turned into the pond.
Woods hit 5-iron from 176 yards into the wind on the seventh hole and had to make a 6-footer for his two-putt par. Going the opposite way on the eighth, he hit a 7-iron from 210 yards just left of the green and got up-and-down for birdie.
The second round was to begin Friday afternoon on schedule.
”Guys are not going to be shooting low numbers now,” Woods said. ”This is a tough wind because obviously the strength; also the coolness that it brings in there because the ball is not flying very far.”