Hideki Matsuyama celebrates 100 in style
AKRON, Ohio – Hideki Matsuyama was the lone figure left on the range late Saturday at Firestone Country Club as the sun began to find its way out of sight. The Japanese star sat two shots off the lead but did not feel like he was hitting it well enough to be a serious contender at the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational. So, he worked his rear off till he did feel like a contender in what was his 100th PGA TOUR appearance. That version of Hideki Matsuyama could have envisaged his record tying 9-under 61 blitzkrieg that was to come and set up a dominant five-shot victory and a return to the top of the FedExCup standings. But when he returned to the range Sunday for his warmup, the confidence gained was shattered after an abysmal session. He was thinking about not shooting 81. And as he first shot sailed into the left rough it could have got ugly early. “I hit it really well and had a lot of confidence. Then I came to the golf course this morning and I don't know where it went,” Matsuyama said. “It was probably the worst warmup I've ever had on a tournament that I've won. I was shocked, and the first tee shot showed it.” The 25-year-old claimed he “was nervous all the way around because I really wasn't sure of my swing,” but it didn’t show on the outside as he scrambled for an opening par and then kick-started things with a chip-in eagle on the par-5 2nd. After he added seven birdies, including three straight to finish, he joined Tiger Woods (twice), Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal with the South Course record at Firestone. He had been paired with Woods when he shot 61 in 2013 and felt it was beyond his capabilities. It started a harder work ethic. He now boasts five PGA TOUR wins, two of which are World Golf Championships. He also has eight wins on the Japan Tour and won the 2016 Hero World Challenge. “I just couldn't believe it that anyone could shoot a 61 on this golf course,” he said. “And then from that point, to work hard and to be able to do it today is a dream come true.” Matsuyama is clearly elite and is arguably the greatest player to have ever come out of Japan. When he won the World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions earlier this season he became the first Asian player to win a WGC event Now he has two. He has six top-10s in majors from 20 starts. No one from Japan has ever won a major. Matsuyama heads to the PGA Championship with as good a chance as any. “All I can do is my best. I know a lot of us have tried from Japan to win majors. Hopefully some day it will happen,” he said humbly. But does he feel he belongs in the elite company he holds as one of the best players in the world? “Elite? It's difficult to compare my game with the game of my peers,” he says. “Number one, they have majors, I haven't won a major yet. I have a lot of work left to do. “But that's not to say that I don't have confidence. I'm going to keep working and keep preparing and doing my best and hopefully someday I can reach that level that my peers have.” One of those peers, who is the favorite heading to the PGA Championship, is Rory McIlroy. He certainly won’t be underestimating Matsuyama at Quail Hollow. “Once he gets going, he just keeps the hammer down and keeps it going. It's very impressive,” McIlroy said. “He's played very impressively over the past 18 months with a lot of wins and a lot of good finishes. Great player, great young player. I expect him to be right up there next week as well.” We do also, Rory.
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