(Reuters) – World number one Brooks Koepka shrugged off a mediocre start that left him three shots off the first-round lead at the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Japan on Thursday, the American confident he has enough time to make up the deficit.
The two-time defending champion of the Japan Golf Tour event was nowhere near his best, but nonetheless eked out a reasonable two-under-par 69 at Phoenix Country Club in Miyazaki.
“I didn’t hit it that great and putted pretty bad,” Koepka told reporters. “A couple of putts I hit were just bad, and couple of putts I just misread.”
Koumei Oda of Japan tamed testing winds to lead on five-under 66, one stroke ahead of a large group including Argentine Emiliano Grillo and American Andrew Putnam.
The 40-year-old Oda is no slouch, with eight career wins on the Japan Tour, but Koepka expressed confidence in reeling in the leader over the next three days.
“Three shots off the lead is fine,” the double major winner in 2018 said. “I didn’t shoot myself out of it, which is nice.
“Over four days, you are usually going to have one day when you don’t play your best (and) hopefully that was today.
“On this golf course, if you are playing well and controlling distance, and making some putts, you can shoot eight-or-nine-under no problem. I will do that tomorrow.”
Koepka was a combined 41 under par for his victories in 2016 and 2017.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by John O’Brien)