Ozaki tries to play on

NEWPORT BEACH — Joe Ozaki rose out of bed Friday at six in the morning and turned on the TV. Watching the news is one of the first things the Japanese golfer does before he goes about his day.

Ozaki was going to get ready to play in the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach Country Club. Then what he saw on the news shook him up.

For the first time, Ozaki learned a magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit his homeland. Living in Tokyo, he expects earthquakes. It is part of life in Japan.

The latest earthquake was the strongest ever recorded in Japan. And the images Ozaki saw were nothing like he had seen before. Buildings shook violently for almost a minute and then what came next was something out of a movie. A massive tsunami swept everything in front of its path in northeastern Japan.

Ozaki felt compelled to watch. His wife and two sons are in Tokyo, 230 miles away from the earthquake's epicenter near Sendai.

Through his caddie Yasuko Moore, Ozaki said he still has not been able to reach his family back home. He believes his family is OK.

"If something happens, somebody is going to call [me]," Ozaki said through Moore.

"It's horrible news. [I] tried to go forward. That's the only thing [I] can do and they can do back in Japan."

There was no question whether Ozaki would play 18 holes of golf. Five hours before his tee time, Ozaki decided to play.

The round of golf wasn't the toughest he has emotionally endured during his career.

The last time Ozaki dealt with heartbreak in Japan, it involved his father. He was home in 1991, when he said his father passed away.

"[I] had to play after the funeral," Ozaki said.

Ozaki said he went on to win the tournament on the Japan Golf Tour. He was 35 years old back then.

A more mature Ozaki figured a way to focus on the first day of the Toshiba Classic. He knows the course on the Champions Tour, having competed in the event the past four years.

After the first nine holes, starting on No. 10, Ozaki showed he could play despite the distraction. He collected a birdie on No. 15, a par five, in between two birdies. One his front nine, he was four-under-par 32, a good spot.

Ozaki moved into the top 10 with three holes to go on the back nine. But a double bogey on the final hole dropped Ozaki from ninth to 15th place, where he is in a logjam with 14 other golfers at three-under-par 68.

"Last hole, missed the four-foot putt," said Ozaki in English, trying his best to forget about the putt. "It's OK. Tomorrow, I'll be ready."

Ozaki said he is looking forward to competing today and hopefully Sunday, the last day of the tournament.

On Monday, he plans to fly back home to Tokyo to reunite with his family, which he has not seen in five weeks.

"He misses his family," Moore said before helping Ozaki unload his bag off the golf cart. "He's going to call his family when we go back to the hotel."

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