Rickie Fowler of the US hits a shot during the second round at Inzai
Inzai (Japan) (AFP) - Rickie Fowler grabbed a share of the lead at the halfway stage of the US PGA Tour’s Zozo Championship in Japan on Friday as defending champion Hideki Matsuyama rued another “stressful” day.
Fowler carded a bogey-free seven-under-par 63 in the second round to lead alongside fellow American Andrew Putnam at 10-under at Narashino Country Club.
Home favourite Matsuyama was down in tied 49th after a 69, 10 shots off the leaders. Playing partner and Tokyo Olympic gold-medallist Xander Schauffele was tied 13th, six shots off the pace.
Matsuyama, Japan’s first male major winner, is the undoubted star attraction this week in Chiba, near Tokyo, with thousands of fans following his every move.
But he has a mountain to climb over the weekend if he wants to retain the title he won last year with a stunning eagle on the final hole.
“These two rounds have been very stressful,” said the world number 19.
“If I don’t get a big score tomorrow then it’s going to be very difficult for me to win the title.”
Former US Masters champion Matsuyama made two birdies, one bogey and struggled with his putter all day.
“At the times where it looked like I could take control, often I would miss or make a mistake and that was frustrating,” he said.
Schauffele made three birdies against two bogeys for a matching second-round 69.
Fowler, who like Schauffele shot an opening-day 67, climbed up the leaderboard with a bogey-free second round, nailing seven birdies for his 63.
The three-time major runner-up had a double-bogey on his opening round but said he had focused on “staying present” on the second day.
“The last two days I wasn’t exactly swinging it great – I just did a good job of managing my way around,” he said.
“I just did a good job of accepting what I had and moving forward with that.”
Putnam sank eight birdies on his way to carding a 62 but that was soon eclipsed by John Huh, who nailed nine birdies for a 61 and fourth overall.
Third was Keegan Bradley, a shot back from Fowler and Putnam as the American contingent remained prominent at the top of the leaderboard.
Huh said he had enjoyed “a stress-free sort of round”.
“It was a good day to go out there and play some good golf, with the good weather we had today,” he said, following a soggy day on Thursday.
“I had good shots but the golf course is in really good shape so I was able to take advantage of it, and hopefully I will for the next two days.”