Red-hot Matsuyama shakes of Stenson challenge
Hideki Matsuyama was only five years old when he first saw Tiger Woods, watching that 1997 Masters victory on videotape.
Even sweeter was standing next to Woods to receive yet another trophy.
Right now, the Japanese star can’t seem to lose.
The return of Tiger Woods ended with Matsuyama winning his third straight tournament, and fourth out of his last five, in the Hero World Challenge.
“I can’t say that I played well today, but I did win Tiger’s tournament,” Matsuyama said. “And what a great honor that is.”
Matsuyama had a few nervous moments on the back nine at Albany when his seven-shot lead at the start of the final round was reduced to two over British Open champion Henrik Stenson with two holes to play.
Matsuyama closed with two pars for a 1-over 73 and a twoshot victory.
Woods found plenty of positives from his first tournament in more than 15 months, though the final round fea- tured three double bogeys and a 76 — the highest score of the tournament — that dropped him to 15 th place out of 17 players.
“It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat the best players in the world,” Woods said. “I missed it. I love it.”
Matsuyama is quickly moving up in class.
His big run started with a three-shot victory in the Japan Open. He was runner-up in Malaysia, then became the first Asian to win a World Golf Championships title with a seven-shot victory over Stenson and Daniel Berger in the HSBC Champions.
Two weeks later, he won the Taiheiyo Masters on the Japan Golf Tour by seven strokes. And except for a few mistakes on the back nine at Albany, this was another runaway.
“It’s going to give him a boat-load of confidence going into next year, and he’s going to be one of the top guys to beat for a very long time,” Woods said.
Matsuyama, who finished at 18-under 270, won $1 million and remained at No 6 in the world.
He ended his streak of 17 consecutive rounds in the 60s, though all that mattered was the trophy presentation with Woods.
“It’s tough to lose a sevenstroke lead,” he said. “But somehow I was able to pull it off. Hopefully, this experience will help me in the future.”
Stenson, playing with him in the final group, closed with a 68 and made Matsuyama work hard for the victory.
Matsuyama still had a sixshot lead going into the back nine when he went bunker-tobunker around the 10th green and made double bogey.
He then three-putted from about 18 feet on the 14th hole, where Stenson made birdie for a two-shot swing.
Just like that, the lead was down to three with four holes remaining — and it looked like it would get even closer on the par-5 15 th.
Matsuyama was in a greenside bunker in two and didn’t quite reach the green. Stenson had a 45-foot eagle putt. But the Swede left it about 10 feet short and three-putted for par, and Matsuyama matched him.
Stenson also three-putted the 10th.
“Whatever he gave me on 14, I gave it straight back to him on 15,” Stenson said.
Stenson drilled a 4-iron to within four feet on the 16th for another birdie, and Matsuyama’s approach barely cleared the bunker, leading to par to stay two ahead.
The tournament was still in doubt on the 18th. Matsuyama’s shot from the rough bounded over the green, while Stenson had a 12-footer for birdie. If the Swede made it and Matsuyama failed to get up-and-down, it was headed for a playoff.
The Japanese star steadied himself with a good pitch to tap-in range to seal his triumph.
Matsuyama now heads home to Japan for a break, though he won’t put his clubs away for long. He starts back in Hawaii the first week of January, and already he is thinking ahead to April and Augusta National.
“Starting next week all my focus and preparation will be for the Masters,” he said.
“Hopefully, along the way I can play well on the PGA Tour. But the Masters is my next goal.”
Tiger’s foundation does wonders giving kids opportunities who otherwise would not have them. Opportunities for education, travel, dreams.
His business world is united under the TGR umbrella, and one venture was showcased this week. He’s a partner in Albany, the exclusive Bahamas resort area that is remote but growing. Ernie Els helped start it. Justin Rose lives there. And it just had a week of free global advertising on telecasts of Tiger’s comeback. He’s not worried about lunch money.
Woods is taking cold baths. He’s not running so much or lifting weights so much — all those things he did when he was younger that forced rivals to do the same to keep up with him.
He’s going to face guys who can do those lifts and runs and can recover faster between rounds. And he wants to win four more majors to catch Jack Nicklaus.
He will have to figure out new ways of winning. You could see the process start this week as he layed up at times, trying new ways to negotiate the course and be successful.
Solid foundation: Body of work:
Hideki Matsuyama poses with tournament host Tiger Woods and the trophy after winning the Hero World Challenge on Sunday in Nassau, Bahamas.
Tiger Woods catches a ball on the practice range at the Hero World Challenge on Sunday.
There was a camaraderie built among players and Woods was big on tweeting his thoughts.
He even got a supportive tweet from US president-elect Donald Trump, who welcomed him back.
It helped that he was unable to play at the Ryder Cup, so he could focus on players and holes and strategy to help the US victory. Tiger might be more dangerous behind the scenes than as a player in the team events.