PORTSTEWART (Northern Ireland) • Rory McIlroy has singled out world No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama for special praise ahead of this week's Irish Open at Portstewart.
Matsuyama is the highest-ranked player in the field - two spots higher than tournament host McIlroy. He is making his debut at the US$7 million (S$9.68 million) European Tour event.
Strangely, his image is missing from the promotional banners and posters. But that has not diminished defending champion McIlroy's respect for Japan's highest-ranked golfer ever.
"When you look at what he has achieved, not just last year and already this year but over the past few years, it is impressive how he goes about his business," said the Northern Irishman of the four-time champion on the PGA Tour.
"He is a very hard worker and any time you are on the practice range he always seems to be there and it is the same scenario when you are on the practice putting green.
"The thing I also like about Hideki is that he is aggressive as you only have to look at some of the shots he hits and the pins he will take in during competition."
The four-time Major champion reacted quickly to get Matsuyama a spot when he heard that the 25-year-old was interested in playing some links golf ahead of the British Open.
"When he got himself into contention at Erin Hills I was sort of pulling for him as it would have been great to have a reigning Major champion in the Irish Open field," said McIlroy.
Matsuyama, who went on to finish second at the US Open, will contest the opening two rounds of the Ir ish Open in the company of McIlroy and Spain world No. 11 Jon Rahm.
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