Hot putter helps Matsuyama set course record

MEDINAH • Hideki Matsuyama has never missed the Tour Championship since his first full year on the PGA Tour. On Friday, he played like he does not want the streak to end.

Outside the top 30 in the FedEx Cup for the first time at the BMW Championship, he made five birdie putts from 15 feet or longer and broke the course record at Medinah with a nine-under 63 for a one-shot lead going into the weekend.

He started his second round with a 30-foot birdie putt. He ended the round with a 30-foot birdie putt.

The explanation for what went right was simple.

"I did make a lot of long putts today, and that was the difference," the Japanese, who had nine birdies in all, said through his interpreter.

That was a big difference for Tiger Woods, too.

He made only two putts longer than six feet, made a pair of bogeys from the bunkers late in the round and had to settle for another 71. He was tied for 48th and needs a top 10 finish to advance to next week's Tour Championship.

At the season-ender at East Lake, everyone will have a shot at winning the FedEx Cup and the US$15 million (S$20.8 million) prize.

Matsuyama was at 12-under 132, one shot ahead of Patrick Cantlay (67) and Tony Finau (66). Justin Thomas made six birdies to offset three bogeys for a 69 to be two shots behind.

Matsuyama won four times on the Japan Golf Tour as a rookie after he graduated from college, and then won the Memorial Tournament in 2014 and narrowly got into the FedEx Cup finale. He was as high as No. 2 in the world just two years ago after the US Open, where he finished tied for second.

But he has gone two years without winning, and Friday was the first time he has led after any round since his most recent victory at the 2017 Bridgestone Invitational.

"It's been a long time since I've been in contention," the 27-year-old said. "I've been struggling for a while this year."

Woods won last year's Tour Championship to cap a remarkable return from four back surgeries with his first win in five years. Six months later, he won the Masters.

He pulled out of the play-off opener at the Northern Trust last week, citing a mild oblique strain, and slipped 10 spots to No. 38. He is not ruling out a defence of his title, but he is running out of time.

"I'm going to have to have a great weekend and make a lot of birdies and post some rounds in the mid-60s to give myself a chance at it," said the 43-year-old.

"Putt well and I'll shoot good scores. I haven't done that."

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 18, 2019, with the headline 'Hot putter helps Matsuyama set course record'. Print Edition | Subscribe