McIl­roy strokes Mat­suyama ahead of Ir­ish Open

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Rory McIl­roy has sin­gled out world num­ber two Hideki Mat­suyama for spe­cial praise ahead of this week’s Ir­ish Open at Port­stew­art.

Mat­suyama is the high­est ranked player in this Ir­ish field and two spots higher than McIl­roy, who was bumped back to num­ber three by the Ja­panese star af­ter the US Open and then to num­ber four by Jor­dan Spi­eth, who climbed to num­ber three on the back of his dra­matic play-off vic­tory in last month’s Trav­el­ers Cham­pi­onship.

Mat­suyama, the high­est-placed Ja­panese golfer in the his­tory of the world rank­ings, is mak­ing his de­but in the $7 mil­lion event as well as his first ever jour­ney to Ire­land. Strangely, his im­age is miss­ing from any of the pro­mo­tional ban­ners and posters lin­ing the streets of the vir­tual twin towns of Port­stew­art and Portrush.

How­ever, that has not di­min­ished McIl­roy’s glow­ing re­spect for Mat­suyama.

“When you look at what he has achieved, not just last year and al­ready this year, but over the past few years it is im­pres­sive how he goes about his busi­ness,” said McIl­roy. “He is a very hard worker and any­time you are on the prac­tice range he al­ways seems to al­ways be there and it is the same sce­nario when you are on the prac­tice putting green.

“He is very dili­gent around his prac­tice as he works very hard at it. “The thing I also like about Hideki is that he is ag­gres­sive as you only have to look at some of the shots he hits and the pins he will take in dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

“So, all as­pects of his game are very strong and he is very im­pres­sive.” As tour­na­ment host, North­ern Ire­land’s McIl­roy has worked hard be­hind the scenes for three years now twist­ing the arm of his fel­low PGA Tour col­leagues in seek­ing their at­ten­dance at the Ir­ish Open but he seemed to have lit­tle trou­ble en­cour­ag­ing the re­cent run­ner-up in the US Open.

“I do not speak Ja­panese all that well but then I heard he was in­ter­ested in play­ing some links golf ahead of The Open, so when I heard that we got in touch with his man­age­ment team say­ing that would love to have him com­pete at Port­stew­art and we would do any­thing to help in get­ting him to the tour­na­ment,” said McIl­roy.

“He is the sec­ond-best player in the world right now and went so close a few weeks back to win­ning the US Open. “When he got him­self into con­tention at Erin Hills I was sort of pulling for him as it would have been great to have a reign­ing Ma­jor cham­pion in the Ir­ish Open field.”

Mat­suyama has won four times on the PGA Tour in­clud­ing this year’s suc­cess­ful de­fence of the Phoenix Open.

It was the end of last year Mat­suyama stamped his enor­mous po­ten­tial win­ning four of five events on his home Ja­pan Tour start­ing with a first Ja­pan Open ti­tle.

A week af­ter cap­tur­ing the Ja­pan Open he won the WGC HSBC Cham­pi­ons in Shang­hai to move to num­ber six in the world. Mat­suyama then stormed to a seven stroke suc­cess in the Tai­heiyo Mas­ters.

In early De­cem­ber he went on to claim the Tiger Woods hosted Hero World Chal­lenge in the Ba­hamas for a fourth vic­tory in five starts. Mat­suyama will con­test the open­ing two rounds of the Ir­tish Open in the com­pany of McIl­roy and Spain world num­ber 11 Jon Rahm. — AFP

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