Golf: Matsuyama sets his sights on Major goal

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama celebrates a historic win at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, an event that has been dubbed as "Asia's Major". He won by seven strokes.
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama celebrates a historic win at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, an event that has been dubbed as "Asia's Major". He won by seven strokes.PHOTO: REUTERS

The Japanese, 24, gains confidence from becoming first Asian to win a WGC event

SHANGHAI • Hideki Matsuyama made history yesterday when he became the first player from Asia to win a World Golf Championships event.

The Japanese left a world-class field, including Rory McIlroy and all four Major winners this year, trailing in his wake as he finished seven strokes clear at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. The 24-year-old also became the first from the continent to win "Asia's Major" and he did it in style with a flawless final round of six-under 66.

He was just one shot shy of the record 72-hole score at Sheshan International Golf Club of 264 set by reigning US Open champion Dustin Johnson three years ago.

Matsuyama finished at 265 after four stunning rounds of 66, 65, 68 and 66.

British Open champion Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger of the US were tied for second way back at 272 which was good enough to take the Swede past US Masters champion Danny Willett at the top of the European Tour's Race to Dubai standings.

World No. 3 McIlroy yesterday carded his second 66 of the week for yet another top-five finish as he shared fourth place on 273 with Bill Haas.

Matsuyama, whose total of 29 birdies for the week was just three short of the all-time US PGA Tour record of 32, remarkably did not card a bogey after the ninth hole of his second round on Friday.

The in-form player is set to rise to as high as No. 6 in the world following his victory for which he wins US$1.62 million (S$2.25 million).

"Winning today, I feel has got me closer to being able to compete a lot better in the Major tournaments," he said. "My next goal is to win a Major and I'm going to do all that I can to prepare well for that."

It caps a remarkable run in which Matsuyama won the Japan Open and finished runner-up in the PGA Tour's CIMB Classic in Malaysia.

He settled any nerves straight away with a birdie at the first hole to open a four-shot cushion over defending champion Russell Knox, who eventually fell away with a 74 to finish ninth with a 276 total.

"I was really nervous at the start of the day, but I was able to birdie hole No. 1," said the Japanese. "That kind of got myself into the rhythm of the day, and, after that, it was smooth sailing."

He also picked up shots on the fifth and seventh holes.

He made three birdies in a row on the back nine, getting the first of them with a 30-foot putt on the 13th, and managed to avoid a bogey on the signature par-five final hole despite landing in the water.

The youngest player to win the HSBC Champions, which is co-sanctioned by all the major Tours, Matsuyama is also the first Japanese to win a European Tour event since Isao Aoki in 1983.

"I think Hideki has played much superior golf than the rest of the field this week," said McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman made a late decision yesterday to skip this week's Turkish Airlines Open - the first of the European Tour's "Final Three" series of play-off events - because of fears over security.

"I guess (the Race to Dubai) is out of my hands," said McIlroy, who is third in the standings but has only one event remaining, the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Matsuyama sets his sights on Major goal'. Print Edition | Subscribe