CHARLOTTE (REUTERS) - Hideki Matsuyama was in the thick of the battle for the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow on Sunday, but finished three back in his quest to become the first Japanese male to win a golf Major.
Matsuyama was locked in a five-way tie for the lead early on the back nine, but some wayward approach shots led to bogeys, while American playing companion Justin Thomas caught fire to win the title by two shots.
The crowd at Quail Hollow hollered loud encouragement for 24-year-old Thomas, but there were also cheers for Matsuyama, who was followed by scores of Japanese media, TV crews, photographers and reporters, every step of the way.
Japanese golf fans also turned out to support the 25-year-old and perhaps witness an historic breakthrough.
"If he wins, it will be the first time for a Japanese champion in a Major," Tommy, on a vacation to the United States from Kobe, told Reuters at the 13th hole.
"Japanese people are hoping he can win to get the victory today."
Tommy, who wore a Srixon cap just like Matsuyama, said a victory by Matsuyama could have a big impact on golf in Japan.
"A few years ago, when Kei Nishikori, the tennis player, was a finalist at the US Open, most of the younger generation joined in playing tennis. I think the same thing is going to happen."
Matsuyama bogeyed the 13th for his third successive bogey, but he bounced back with two birdies.
Meg, sitting near the tee box at the 16th, was at the tournament with her American husband and their two children. She said she was most interested in watching Matsuyama.
"I'm sure everybody is watching him now right now on TV and everybody's proud of him," said Meg, who is from Tokyo.
Trailing by three at the last, Matsuyama fired a bold shot at the pin from long distance and just missed holing it, drawing a loud groan from the thousands packed around the green.
He finished with a one-over 72.
Afterwards, Matsuyama was emotional about his near miss at claiming Japan's first men's Major.
"I'm very, very disappointed," a teary-eyed Matsuyama told reporters. "I was in the lead. I didn't think I would feel pressure. But there was pressure.
"Maybe this experience is what I need to be winning the next time."
Two Japanese fans sitting behind the 18th green said they were proud of him.
"He did a great job. It was wonderful. He tried and he kept his concentration to the 18th hole. We are proud of him," said Emiko Suzuki, sitting alongside her husband.
Johnny, who emigrated from Nagoya with Emiko to live in Henderson, North Carolina, remained a strong supporter of Matsuyama.
"I'm confident he will be the first Japanese man to win a Major," he said. "It will be soon.