Ja­panese star adds to re­sume

Mat­suyama’s 61 leads to run­away

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - 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 sec­ond-round 61, which tied the South 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 golf course,” Mat­suyama said.

He sure didn’t ex­pect that from him­self Sun­day, es­pe­cially after warm­ing up so badly that Mat­suyama wasn’t sure which the way ball was go­ing. Some four hours later, the 25-yearold Ja­panese star had a place along­side Woods in the record book.

Mat­suyama fin­ished with three con­sec­u­tive birdies to cap off 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 it gave Mat­suyama a five-shot vic­tory over Zach John­son.

He fin­ished at 16-un­der 264 and moved back to the top of the FedEx Cup stand­ings.

Mat­suyama found more than his swing after he left the range. He might have found the game that first

el­e­vated him to the elite in golf last fall when he had four vic­to­ries and two run­ner-up fin­ishes over six con­sec­u­tive tour­na­ments.

And the tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter with the PGA Championship four days away, with a Ja­panese na­tion clam­or­ing for its first ma­jor cham­pion.

“I hope their ex­pec­ta­tions aren’t too high,” Mat­suyama said. “But my ex­pec­ta­tions re­ally at the be­gin­ning of this week weren’t that high, ei­ther, and 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. “It’s very im­pres­sive. 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, as well.”

Woods shot 61 twice at Fire­stone. Jose Maria Olaz­a­bal in 1990 and Ser­gio Gar­cia in 2014 were the 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 4 feet on the par-5 16th for birdie. He holed an 8-foot putt on the 17th hole and then closed with an­other ap­proach

and set­tled 6 feet away. He now has won two World Golf Cham­pi­onships by a com­bined 12 shots, hav­ing cap­tured the HSBC Cham­pi­ons by seven shots 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 at 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 4-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 hole

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.

McIl­roy got within one shot of the lead on the front nine with three birdies in six holes. He stum­bled on the back nine and shot 69, leav­ing him in a tie for fifth with Rus­sell Knox, Paul Casey and Adam Had­win.


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