Mat­suyama mas­ters Fire­stone Red-hot put­ter points the way to easy tri­umph

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

AKRON, Ohio — Hideki Mat­suyama was along for the ride four years ago when he watched Tiger Woods tear apart Fire­stone Coun­try Club on his way to a 61 in the sec­ond round, which tied the course record and sent Woods to a seven-shot vic­tory in the Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional.

“I just couldn’t be­lieve that any­one could shoot 61 on this course,” Mat­suyama said.

He sure didn’t ex­pect that from him­self on Sun­day, es­pe­cially af­ter warm­ing up so poorly that he wasn’t sure which way the ball was go­ing.

Some four hours later, the 25-year-old Ja­panese star had a place along­side Woods in the record books.

Mat­suyama fin­ished with three straight birdies to cap a run­away vic­tory with a 9-un­der 61, giv­ing him his sec­ond World Golf Cham­pi­onship in nine months. It was the low­est fi­nal round in four decades at ven­er­a­ble Fire­stone and gave Mat­suyama a five-shot vic­tory over Zach John­son.

Mat­suyama, who fin­ished at 16-un­der 264 and moved back to the top of the FedEx Cup rank­ings, found more than just his swing af­ter he left the prac­tice range.

He re­dis­cov­ered the game that first el­e­vated him to golf ’s up­per ech­e­lon last fall when he had four vic­to­ries and two run­ner-up fin­ishes over six straight tour­na­ments.

And with Ja­pan clam­or­ing for its first ma­jor cham­pion, Mat­suyama’s tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter head­ing into the PGA Cham­pi­onship this week.

“I hope their ex­pec­ta­tions aren’t too high,” Mat­suyama said. “My ex­pec­ta­tions at the be­gin­ning of this week weren’t that high, ei­ther, but here we are.”

He won for the third time this sea­son, join­ing Dustin John­son and Jor­dan Spi­eth for most on the PGA Tour.

“Once he gets go­ing, he just keeps the ham­mer down and keeps it go­ing,” Rory McIl­roy said.

“He’s played very im­pres­sively over the past 18 months, with a lot of wins and a lot of good fin­ishes. That’s the cal­iber of player he is. I ex­pect him to be right up there next week.”

Mat­suyama, who started the fi­nal round two shots be­hind John­son and Thomas Pi­eters, quickly got into the hunt by chip­ping in from 60 feet for ea­gle. He took the lead for the first time on No 6 with a 15-foot birdie.

Woods shot 61 twice at Fire­stone. Jose Maria Olaz­a­bal in 1990 and Ser­gio Gar­cia in 2014 were the only other play­ers to do it.

Mat­suyama knew from his ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing with Woods in 2013 what it would take. And just like ev­ery­thing else on this day, he made it look easy.

He spun a wedge back to four feet on the par-5 16th for birdie. He drained an eight­foot putt on the 17 th and then closed with an­other ap­proach that set­tled six feet away.

Mat­suyama now has won two World Golf Cham­pi­onships by a com­bined 12 shots, hav­ing cap­tured the HSBC Cham­pi­ons by seven strokes in Shang­hai last fall.

John­son, win­less since his Bri­tish Open vic­tory two years ago at St. An­drews, pulled within one shot with a long birdie putt on the 11th, but he could do no bet­ter than pars the rest of the way and shot 68.

Pi­eters was never in the game af­ter miss­ing four-foot par putts on suc­ces­sive holes to close out the front nine. He closed with a 71.

The only other player with a chance was Charley Hoff­man, who also was one shot be­hind on the back nine.

Hoff­man was three shots be­hind on the par-5 16th when his cad­die sug­gested lay­ing up be­cause there was no place to get it close by go­ing for the green 282 yards away.

“I’m try­ing to win a tour­na­ment,” Hoff­man said. “I’m tired of fin­ish­ing sec­ond.”

He ripped a 3-wood onto the green and over the back into light rough, chipped weakly to 15 feet and made par any­way.

He wound up with a 66 to fin­ish third, though it was a big step in try­ing to make his first Presidents Cup team.

Mat­suyama’s fi­nal birdie broke by one shot the low­est fi­nal round by a win­ner at Fire­stone.

Ful­ton Allem shot 62 when he won the old World Se­ries of Golf in 1993.

McIl­roy got within one shot of the lead on the front nine with three birdies in six holes un­til his mo­men­tum stalled with a few missed putts.

He stum­bled on the back nine and shot 69, leav­ing him in a tie for fifth with Rus­sell Knox, Paul Casey and Adam Had­win.

Spi­eth closed with a 68 and tied for 13th in his last tour­na­ment be­fore he goes for the ca­reer grand slam in the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

“I haven’t won a ma­jor yet. I have a lot of work left to do,” Mat­suyama said. “But that’s not to say that I don’t have con­fi­dence.”

My ex­pec­ta­tions at the be­gin­ning of this week weren’t that high, ei­ther, but here we are.” Hideki Mat­suyama, af­ter win­ning the WGC Bridge­stone


Hideki Mat­suyama reacts on the 18th green af­ter drain­ing a birdie putt that sealed his vic­tory in the WGC Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional in Akron, Ohio, on Sun­day.

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