Asian golfers on top of the pile

Statement win for world No. 3 Matsuyama, who will be a Major threat at the PGA C'ship

Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama celebrating his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his second WGC tournament title. The world No. 3 will be one to look out for at the Aug 10-13 PGA Championship, the final Major of the season.
Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama celebrating his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his second WGC tournament title. The world No. 3 will be one to look out for at the Aug 10-13 PGA Championship, the final Major of the season. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AKRON • As Hideki Matsuyama warmed up on Sunday afternoon at the Bridgestone Invitational tournament, his tee shots raised the question: Was that a golf club in his hands or a pellet gun?

The way he was spraying balls on the range, it appeared that he would struggle to break par.

Instead, the 25-year-old tied the Firestone Country Club course record in the final round of the last World Golf Championships (WGC) event of the season.

With a bogey-free, nine-under 61, the Japanese player finished with a total of 264, five strokes ahead of the runner-up Zach Johnson, who shared the lead going into Sunday and closed with a 68.

Matsuyama eagled the par-5 second hole to vault into a share of the lead, birdied three of the next seven holes to make the turn in 30 and added birdies at the 13th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes to distance himself from the field, which included 49 of the top 50 players in the world.

The world No. 3 knew perfectly well what the course record was. In the second round of the 2013 tournament, he was grouped with Tiger Woods, who carded a 61 on his way to his 79th PGA Tour victory.

Matsuyama said he remembered thinking at the time: "I just couldn't believe it that anyone could shoot a 61 on this golf course."


Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama celebrating his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his second WGC tournament title. The world No. 3 will be one to look out for at the Aug 10-13 PGA Championship, the final Major of the season. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The Japanese golfer, then ranked 33rd in the world, finished tied for 21st behind Woods, who has not won since.

In the four intervening years, Matsuyama has won five times on the PGA Tour. He described matching Woods' score as "a dream come true".

The victory gave Matsuyama a bookend of WGC titles. He won by seven strokes in Shanghai in October, beating Henrik Stenson, who only a few months earlier had won the British Open.

That finish came during a stretch in which Matsuyama, the first player from Asia to win one of golf's elite WGC titles, was perhaps the hottest player on the planet.

Between mid-October and early February, he won five tournaments worldwide, including an unofficial event hosted by Woods. He also had two runner-up finishes.

In February, he moved within reach of the No. 1 ranking, then held by Jason Day, but succumbed to the pressure and missed the cut at the Genesis Open. Dustin Johnson won the tournament to rise to No. 1, where he remains.

No Japanese golfer has won a men's Major but Matsuyama has come close. He finished tied for second at this year's US Open, tied for fourth at last year's PGA Championship and tied for seventh at the 2016 Masters.

Only one Asian player, Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA, has captured one of the four Major championships.

What are Matsuyama's chances of victory at this week's PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina?

LEARNT FROM THE BEST

I just couldn't believe it that anyone (Tiger Woods) could shoot a 61 on this golf course.''

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA, the world No. 3, after equalling the course record held by Woods at Firestone Country Club, en route to lifting the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

The challenge for him over the next few days will be to maintain his serenity, while his compatriots calculate his chances of winning the Major tournament.

"I hope their expectations aren't too high," he said, adding, "My expectations at the beginning of the week weren't that high, and here we are."

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2017, with the headline 'Statement win for world No. 3 Matsuyama, who will be a Major threat at the PGA C'ship'. Print Edition | Subscribe