Golf: Hideki Matsuyama embraces expectations for 2017

Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama has a Major title and the No. 1 ranking in his sights after a sizzling finish to 2016.
Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama has a Major title and the No. 1 ranking in his sights after a sizzling finish to 2016.PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Los Angeles (AFP) - A sizzling finish to 2016 has Hideki Matsuyama focused more than ever on his golfing goals this year, among them a Major title and perhaps the world No. 1 ranking.

"Becoming No. 1 in the world is the goal I think of all of us out here," Matsuyama told reporters this week as he prepared to tee it up on Thursday in the USPGA Tour Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, Hawaii.

"I still have some weak links in my game that I have to work on, but hopefully little by little, I'll be able to improve and to fix what I need to, and hopefully some day compete for No. 1."

Not many weaknesses have been apparent in Matsuyama's game of late.

Since late October he has won four of five starts - with one runner-up finish as well.

The world No. 6's bid to rise will be one of the chief storylines of a 2017 in which the return from injury of Tiger Woods and Australian Jason Day's bid to stay atop the world rankings will also be in the spotlight.

After a fifth-placed finish at the US PGA Tour Championship, Matsuyama won the Japan Open and the World Golf Championships HSBC Champions in October, the Taiheiyo Masters in November and the Tiger Woods-hosted Hero World Challenge in the first week of December.

He also squeezed in a second place finish at the CIMB Classic. It was a sensational end to a 2016 that started with a victory in the USPGA Tour Phoenix Open and included a tie for seventh at the Masters and a fourth-placed finish at the PGA Championship.

"The expectations of people around me are high," he said. "I don't really worry too much about that. Hopefully not put too much pressure on myself. But I know that other people expect a lot of me, and so all I can do is just try my best."

He says there are still things in his game he wants to improve.

"Well, as you know, Jason (Day), he hits it long and he just has a wonderful short game," Matsuyama said. "I don't even come as close to hitting as long as he does. So that's one of the areas that I really need to work on, and hopefully I can do that."

But mostly, Matsuyama said, he has got to stay true to the skills that have brought him this far, the skills that have prompted Jordan Spieth and Woods to predict that Matsuyama will be among the game's elite for years to come.

"I've got to just be my own guy," Matsuyama said. "I just have to play my own game and not try to live up to anybody else's expectations except myself."