CHIBA, Japan — Tiger Woods needs just seven more holes to match one of the PGA Tour’s most esteemed records.
But what appeared an easy stroll to his record-tying 82nd tour victory got at least a bit more interesting before darkness set at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club on Sunday, as Hideki Matsuyama birdied his final two holes before play was halted due to darkness.
Woods was leading by 5 just a few minutes earlier, but Matsuyama put a bit more drama into the remaining holes of the Zozo Championship, the first PGA Tour event ever to be played in Japan.
“I just tried to increase it,” said Woods, who played 29 holes Sunday. “I figured if I stayed where I was at, I was not going to have the lead. I had to make some birdies; the golf course was soft, pretty benign. I felt like I had to keep making birdies, and for the most part I did.”
Woods played 11 holes of the fourth round before darkness halted play. He made three birdies and a bogey to get to 18 under par after he completed 54 holes at 16 under.
Matsuyama is also 2 under for his round through 12 holes, 3 back of Woods. The Japanese star is the only player in the field who can rival Woods’ popularity, and he is doing his best to make it interesting.
The winner of 81 tour events, including this year’s Masters, Woods has never failed to win when leading by at least 3 strokes heading into the final round. He made six birdies and two bogeys during the third round. After a 45-minute break, he went back out for the start of the fourth.
He had just chipped up close for a par on the 11th hole when play was stopped. Matsuyama had just birdied the 12th hole.
“Starting off with the 12th hole is not easy,” Woods said. “One of the hardest par-4s on the golf course. It’s 490 yards. It’s going to be cool tomorrow morning, so the hole is going to play really long. It’s important I get off to a good start. It’s a hard pin. I’ve got to do my job starting out.”
A victory would tie him with Hall of Famer Sam Snead, who was given credit for his record-setting 82nd PGA Tour victory at the 1965 Greensboro Open. Snead, then 52, also became the oldest player to win on the tour with that 1965 victory.
Woods, 43, has some pretty good history on his side.
He has converted a 54-hole lead 54 out of 58 times on the PGA Tour, including 43 of 45 times when he was the outright leader. The only times he has failed to follow through with a victory was at the 1996 Quad Cities Open and the 2009 PGA Championship. He has never blown a 54-hole lead of more than 2 strokes.
It still doesn’t figure to be easy. Matsuyama, who has five PGA Tour victories and 12 in his native Japan, is a massive figure in his own country and rivals Woods in popularity there. He is currently ranked 27th in the world after getting as high as second two years ago.
Due to Friday’s play being postponed due to heavy rains, the tournament was striving to get in as many holes as possible Sunday so a Monday finish can end in the morning. All the players will return to their spot on the course and begin play at 7:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. ET Sunday).
This is Woods’ first PGA Tour start of the 2019-20 season and his first event since the BMW Championship in August.