JOHN MCHENRY: Hideki Matsuyama primed to join golfing greats

As fans of the game, you’ve heard his name mentioned in the same breath as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson - but how many of you have really taken him seriously?

Well you had better start because the hottest man in the game, the world’s number three ranked golfer, Hideki Matsuyama has his more celebrated rivals anxiously looking over their shoulders.

Soft spoken and focused, Matsuyama has always preferred to let his clubs do all the talking but fresh off storming to his sixth win in his last 20 tournaments at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone invitational, which included tying the Firestone course record of nine-under 61 on Sunday, Matsuyama’s form is ominous and McIlroy knows all about his ability to win tournaments.

“Once he gets going, he just keeps the hammer down and it’s very impressive.”

With length in abundance, Matsuyama will not be fazed by this week’s 7,600-yard Quail Hollow course or indeed the opportunity to become Japan’s first male golfer to win a major championship.

Statistically strong in most departments, Matsuyama is one of those modern-day players who uses his power from the tee and his laser like irons to take advantage of the courses he plays. 

With such a high birdie and stroke average, you would imagine that his putting averages should be far higher but much like Rory McIlroy, it seems that Matsuyama plays his best golf when his putter is hot.

Last week, for example, he was inside the top 10 in terms of his putting, and that stat alone went a long way towards securing his eventual five-shot victory.

For his part, Matsuyama openly admits that he is never sure when his best golf is going to show up but when it does, he can pile up victories with the best of them so it is no wonder then that expectations have once again grown this week.

In fact, given, the legion of Japanese journalists now following his every move, Matsuyama may be under the most intense pressure of all the 156 players teeing up this week but expect him to take matters in his stride.

Having already witnessed, as a 19-year-old in 2011, an earthquake and tsunami that devastated his city of Sendai, killing in excess of 15,000 people, before moving to America to focus on his golf in 2011, Matsuyama is made of stern stuff.

Tough times make you stronger as a person, and Matsuyama’s determination to realise his full talent now sees him on the cusp of one of his country’s greatest ever sporting achievements. 

Having progressed through the ranks from world number one amateur to a current world number three — clocking up five PGA Tour wins including two WGCs, he’s already accumulated six top-10 finishes in the majors from 19 professional starts — more than any other Japanese player before him and of course a runner-up finish at the US Open in June.

While his record at Quail Hollow suggests that others may hold the advantage this week (he has never shot lower than 69 on the course but he has completed 72 holes under par each time and twice finished in the top 20) few would resent an overdue major for the man who goes under the radar, the one that no one really thinks about, yet is always there.

According to Jordan Spieth, “Hideki’s game has long been major ready.” 

High praise indeed from the man hoping to create his own bit of history this week.


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