Red-hot Mat­suyama shakes of Sten­son chal­lenge

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS | GOLF - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Nassau, Bahamas

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:

LYNNE SLADKY / AP

Hideki Mat­suyama poses with tour­na­ment host Tiger Woods and the tro­phy af­ter win­ning the Hero World Chal­lenge on Sun­day in Nassau, Bahamas.

AFP

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.

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