DORAL, Fla. -- Ryo Ishikawa is doing his personal best to turn his scorecard into a get-well-soon card.
Unable to tune out the thoughts of the devastation back home in Japan, the 19-year-old star finished a 7-under 65 in the first round of the World Golf Championships event to move within a stroke of the lead at Doral Golf Resort & Spa on Friday.
Remarkably, though he found it nearly impossible to concentrate, it represented his best effort ever on American soil.
As is his habit, Ishikawa said he got up early on Friday and turned on his computer, and only then learned of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunamis that rocked the northeast part of Japan and left hundreds missing or dead as a 30-foot tidal wave slammed into the coast.
Ishikawa had to play six holes on Friday morning in order to complete his weather-delayed first round and said it was difficult to keep his attention from wandering.
"It is not possible to block something of this magnitude out completely," he said through a translator. "But I understand that in the position that I am, together with the other star athletes from Japan and other sporting areas, we can provide encouragement and hope for the people of Japan by doing the job."
He did that and then some.
It was easily Ishikawa's most impressive round in an American event after mostly struggling to make an impact when making occasional appearances at PGA Tour venues. Ishikawa fired an opening, 1-under 70 last year at the U.S. Open and was one shot off the lead, but was unable to sustain the momentum and finished T33. In 16 starts in PGA Tour-sanctioned events, he has missed eight cuts and never has finished in the top 25 in a stroke-play event.
Thus, his underwhelming results in the States made his performance on Friday all the more notable. He played six holes on Friday morning in 2 under, despite winds gusting at 25 mph and unseasonably cold weather in the low 50s. Hunter Mahan leads after an 8-under 64.
Ishikawa's parents live approximately 250 miles from the epicenter of the quake, and was able to connect with them before he played. Many Japanese nationals at the event this week have been unable to get through to friends and relatives back home because communication lines are overloaded.
"I'm very much relieved that I was able to communicate with my family and they are fine," he said.
Ranked No. 42 in the world, Ishikawa said he read that professional sports have been suspended back home and that he hopes to give Japanese citizens something to cheer about.
"I am very much concerned for my country and my countrymen," he said. "All sports have been suspended and I hope we are able to provide some encouragement."
Hanging in there this week could provide quite a lift.
"It is beyond being a distraction for me," he said. "I try to focus, but it is a battle out there for me."
Japan's Yuta Ikeda, who attended college in the region where damage is the worst, has been unable to reach friends in the area and was too upset to speak with reporters after finishing his round Friday morning.