By Andrew Both
CHIBA, Tokyo (Reuters) – Jason Day won the Japan Skins game on Monday but the real winner was probably Tiger Woods, who reported a clean bill of health in his first competitive round since undergoing knee surgery two months ago.
Australian Day birdied the final hole to pick up $100,000 for a total of $210,000 designated to charity, while Woods ($60,000), Rory McIlroy ($60,000) and Hideki Matsuyama ($20,000) collected the crumbs at Narashino Country Club.
Though some 2,000 tickets were sold to spectators at Yen 170,000 each, and most eyes were on Woods, playing in Japan for the first time since 2006, the afternoon was primarily a made-for-TV exhibition.
Nevertheless, it also afforded Woods a chance to assess his condition after having his left knee surgically repaired for the fifth time.
“I did not play well at the beginning,” Woods said.
“I hit a lot of bad shots. It took five or six holes to find it but once I found my feet it came around quickly.”
Woods has only this week’s PGA Tour event, the Zozo Championship starting here on Thursday, to assess his form before finalising his team for December’s Presidents Cup in Australia.
He will captain the American team, and can choose himself as one of the four wildcard selections he must make in a fortnight.
“I’ve got full range of motion and have no pain squatting,” said Woods.
The 15-times major champion probably had more riding on Monday’s skins than the other three at an event created for a worldwide television and streaming audience watching on GolfTV and, in the United States, Golf Channel.
He last year signed a long-term contract to provide exclusive material to GolfTV, the PGA Tour’s global streaming partner.
“We wanted to do something that’s different, something unique,” Woods said.
“I just thought the competitive atmosphere was fantastic, the shots we hit were great, and on top of that, I think the banter back and forth, the needling, the jabbing, it was all good fun.”
Though televised skins games, so called because a player must win a hole outright to avoid the skin carrying over to the next hole, petered out in the U.S. a decade ago, a couple a new features on Monday created something of novelty.
With the Rugby World Cup being staged in Japan, four retired rugby players played the par-three seventh “charity challenge hole” — Englishman Mike Tindall, Irishman Brian O’Driscoll, Australian George Gregan and South African Bryan Habana, each teaming up with a pro.
Matsuyama sank a 35-foot birdie that prompted partner Habana to jump into his arms, but he did not even win the skin as the birdie was matched by McIlroy’s partner O’Driscoll, who rolled in a 25-footer to halve the hole.
The players also had to use one club only at the 525-yard par-five 14th.
McIlroy chose a four-iron, Woods a five-iron, Day and Matsuyama six-irons, and Day showed his skills by splashing out a deft bunker shot.
“I honestly think we all played some pretty nice golf out there, so hopefully the fans enjoyed it on TV around the world,” Day said.
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)