PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Japanese teenage sensation Ryo Ishikawa, struggling with his nerves and his putter, battled to a two-over-par 73 in Thursday’s opening round at the Northern Trust Open.
Making his PGA Tour debut on a Commissioner’s foreign exemption, Ishikawa piled up two birdies, two bogeys and a three-putt double-bogey in ideal scoring conditions at Riviera Country Club.
“I was nervous for 18 holes, from the first to the 18th,” the 17-year-old told reporters, speaking in Japanese through an interpreter. “I feel like my body has been stiff all day.
“I think there are different kinds of nervous — for example, nervous about making a winning putt or nervous to make the cut.
“But today’s nervous was the first time for me to feel, so it’s hard to explain.”
Already one of the biggest sporting celebrities in Japan where he sparks Tiger Woods-style attention, Ishikawa drew the biggest gallery of the day after teeing-off at the par-five first.
Watched by around 300 people with almost a third of them golf reporters and photographers, he reached the green in two and two-putted to launch his round with a birdie.
Although calm in demeanour, Ishikawa dropped shots at the second, where he overshot the green with his approach, and the fifth, where his drive ended up in thick rough to the left.
Worse was to follow at the par-four seventh where he squandered a perfect tee shot with a wayward second that finished short and right below the green.
After chipping six feet past the pin, he three-putted from there to run up an ugly six.
Out in three-over 38, he did well to cover the back nine in one under, a superb four-iron approach to three feet at the 13th setting up his second birdie of the day.
“The difference between the first nine and the back nine was confidence in my iron shots,” Ishikawa said after totalling 29 putts.
“With more confidence, I could hit the ball straighter. With the putting, sometimes I made a mistake to pull the ball to the left.
“During the round, I analysed it and tried to make it better,” added Ishikawa, who shot to fame in May 2007 by becoming the youngest winner on the Japanese tour at 15 years eight months.
“I wanted to have more birdie chances, so hopefully I can have more tomorrow.”
The Saitama native ended a frustrating day 10 strokes behind pacesetting American Phil Mickelson who fired a flawless 63.
“I thought level par for two days would satisfy me,” said Ishikawa, who last year became the youngest player to win 100 million yen (780,000 pounds) in a single season on the Japanese tour. “That was my expectation before the round.”
Editing by Martin Petty