Mat­suyama feels heat to win ma­jor

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NFL/GOLF -

AKRON, Ohio — Ja­pan is clam­or­ing for its first ma­jor cham­pion, and Hideki Mat­suyama knows it.

Mat­suyama, 25, the world’s third-ranked player, heads to Quail Hol­low Club in North Carolina for this week­end’s PGA Cham­pi­onship, the fi­nal ma­jor of the year and his last chance to cap off a year in which the Ja­panese star moved into the elite in golf.

“All I can do is my best,” said Mat­suyama, com­ing off a five-stroke vic­tory on Sun­day in the Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional at Fire­stone Coun­try Club. “I know a lot of us have tried from Ja­pan to win ma­jors. Hope­fully, some day it will hap­pen.”

The tim­ing has never been bet­ter for him.

When he was 21 in 2013 and still fin­ish­ing up his col­lege de­gree in Ja­pan, Mat­suyama had a five-week stretch in which he won twice and was run­ner-up twice on the Ja­pan Golf Tour, and he be­came the first rookie to win the Order of Merit.

Last fall, Mat­suyama had a six-tour­na­ment stretch in which he won four times and was run­ner-up in the other two events. Among those vic­to­ries was the HSBC Cham­pi­ons in Shang­hai, which he won by seven shots for his first World Golf Cham­pi­onship.

Now, with his sec­ond WGC ti­tle, Mat­suyama has won three times this sea­son, join­ing Spi­eth and Dustin John­son for the most on the PGA Tour. He also took over the lead in the FedEx Cup with the start of the play­offs just three weeks away.

Mat­suyama, who won at Phoenix in Fe­bru­ary, tied for 11th in the Mas­ters, was run­ner-up by four shots to Brooks Koepka in the U.S. Open and tied for 14th in the Bri­tish Open.

If it ap­peared he was strug­gling, it might have been be­cause of in­creased ex­pec­ta­tions back in Ja­pan.

“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.”

Mat­suyama stays at No. 3 in the world, a frac­tion be­hind Spi­eth, but only be­cause Spi­eth had cre­ated a large gap from his Bri­tish Open vic­tory.

He has reached as high as No. 2 this year, though he doesn’t look at him­self as be­ing in the cat­e­gory of Jor­dan Spi­eth, John­son, Rory McIl­roy or even Ja­son Day.

AP/TONY DEJAK

Hideki Mat­suyama, fresh off a PGA tour­na­ment vic­tory, said the day will come when a Ja­panese player will win a ma­jor.

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