PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Hideki Matsuyama will never be mistaken for a great putter.
A great ball-striker? Sure. But the putter has long been seen as Matsuyama’s Achilles’ heel, and the stats bear it out: while he ranks fifth this season in strokes gained tee-to-green, Matsuyama is 147th on Tour in strokes gained putting.
After a putter switch that sparked a third-round 67 amid difficult conditions at The Players Championship, though, that narrative has been flipped on its head.
Matsuyama was rolling in putts left and right Saturday on the Stadium Course, and he currently sits second in strokes gained putting among the 76 players still standing at TPC Sawgrass.
At 10 under, he shares second place with Ken Duke, and will share the tournament’s final tee time with Jason Day, who he trails by four shots.
The key to his turnaround on the greens?
“I wish I knew,” Matsuyama said.
After moderate success with a new, center-shafted putter during the first two rounds, Matsuyama returned to his “Ace” putter, modeled after a Scotty Cameron that he calls his “comfort blanket.”
“I’ve changed putters a lot in the past, mid-tournament, so that’s nothing out of the ordinary for me,” he said. “It was maybe just to try something new, get a fresh start, try to get the feeling back. And I made some putts with it and that feeling started coming back.”
While many players struggled with the difficult conditions of the greens during the third round, Matsuyama birdied each of his first three holes and never looked back. After contending at several majors and earning his maiden win at Muirfield Village in 2014, he knows how to handle a tough track.
“Today on the fifth green, the guys I was playing with had, they were, they putted and the ball went miles past,” he said, “And I saw that and I said, man, this is, I knew right then at the fifth green that today was going to be difficult.”
Matsuyama won earlier this year in Phoenix, but a victory at the Tour’s flagship event would mean even more for the Japanese phenom, who keeps the city of Kumamoto recently hit by an earthquake in mind with several buttons he has worn throughout the week.
“Hopefully to make people of Japan happy, especially the folks who are still struggling down in Kumamoto,” he said. “If I were to win, hopefully that would bring them some joy. And seeing them happy after the struggles that they have gone through, it would make me very happy also.”