Matsuyama knocks on the major door

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama hitting from the 16th tee during the second round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow on Friday. He shares the lead with American Kevin Kisner at eight-under 134.
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama hitting from the 16th tee during the second round of the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow on Friday. He shares the lead with American Kevin Kisner at eight-under 134.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Effective putting gives him five birdies in last seven and hope to be Japan's 1st Major winner

CHARLOTTE (North Carolina) • Hideki Matsuyama cannot imagine what impact becoming the first Japanese men's Major golf champion would have on him or his homeland, but he wants to find out today.

The 25-year-old birdied five of the last seven holes at Quail Hollow in a bogey-free seven-under 64 on Friday to share the second-round lead with Kevin Kisner (67) at eight-under 134 at the PGA Championship.

Asked what winning the title would mean for him and for Japanese golf, the world No. 3 said: "That's a difficult question, one that's hard to think about, what effect that would have on my life.

"I'm not sure. I try to imagine, but we still have a lot of golf to play. Hopefully, come Sunday, I can come back (as champion) and that would help increase the popularity of the men's game in Japan."

Matsuyama, whose six top-10 finishes in 20 previous Major starts include a runner-up effort at this year's US Open, could also become only the second Asian man to claim a Major crown after South Korea's Yang Yong Eun at the 2009 PGA.

"The important thing is to give myself an opportunity to win," he added. "Keep knocking on the door and someday it will open."

Matsuyama fired a 61 last Sunday to win the World Golf Championships event in Akron, calling it the best round of his career.

It was also a boost that has carried him into Major contention yet again.

"I am playing well. But whether it's the best that I've ever played in my career, I'm not sure," he said.

"I'm probably not playing as well as I did at the end of last year. However, I'm riding the momentum from the round that I had on Sunday and hopefully I can keep that going for 36 more holes."

The Japanese rescued par at the ninth hole with a 22-foot putt, then began his birdie charge with a 12-foot putt at the par-four 12th and six-footers at the par-three 13th and par-four 14th before a storm halted play.

"I was grateful for the rain delay because I was getting tired," Matsuyama said.

"I think what was making me tired was I wasn't hitting my driver like I wanted to. I was hitting fairways but I wasn't getting the crisp contact that I was hoping for."

But the Japanese, who has kept a new putter he switched to last week, marvelled at his putting.

"The greens here are really fast and there are a lot of putts that I'm not trying to make," he said. "I'm just trying to get it up near the hole and a lot of them are going in."

Seventh-ranked Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner and last year's runner-up, fired a 66 to stand third on 136 and he praised Matsuyama's commitment to success.

"It looks like that guy right now has his priority set on playing good golf," the Australian said.

"He's always putting. He's always working hard. He's the hardest worker out here right now just because he wants to win. And there's no surprise that he won last week and he's up here again."

Day added that Matsuyama's effort has turned putting from a vulnerability into a weapon.

"To be able to change that weakness into a strength is why he's so dominant," Day said.
 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 13, 2017, with the headline 'Matsuyama knocks on the major door'. Print Edition | Subscribe