No faking it: Matsuyama torches Firestone for 61

By Will GrayAugust 6, 2017, 11:34 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Hideki Matsuyama is the king of post-shot misdirection.

Watch a look of disgust creep across his face after a 7-iron from the fairway, and you might expect the ball to end up in a greenside bunker. But watch it enough times and you’ll know to look for it about 15 feet from the hole.

The Japanese phenom sets a high bar for himself, and he has already been able to match or exceed expectations several times during a brief career. But the performance Matsuyama authored Sunday at Firestone Country Club en route to torching the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was his biggest head-fake ever.

As anyone who watched his warm-up session can attest, Matsuyama was entirely out of sorts just minutes before heading to his final-round tee time. Iron shots were sprayed, and drives sailed wildly off-target.

“Last night after the round, I went to the range and hit it really well and had a lot of confidence. Then I came to the golf course this morning and I don’t know where it went,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “It was probably the worst warm-up I’ve ever had on a tournament that I’ve won. I was shocked.”

That uneasy feeling extended to the opening tee shot, which he pulled well left. But after that, according to Matsuyama, “something clicked.”

Four hours later, he was putting the finishing touches on a bogey-free 61 that tied the course record, gave him his second WGC win of the season and left him five shots clear of his nearest competitor.

“I did hit some good shots, but I was nervous all the way around because I really wasn’t sure of my swing today,” Matsuyama said.

Uncertainty in mid-motion is a familiar fear among Tour pros, but during a seemingly flawless 61? Those are moves that would make Barry Sanders blush.

Matsuyama started the day two shots off the lead, a deficit he quickly erased with a chip-in eagle on the second hole. Another birdie followed on the next hole, and by the time Matsuyama made the turn in 5-under 30 he had one hand wrapped around the trophy.


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Granted, it was hardly a done deal given Matsuyama’s recent summer stretch. He was clearly the top player in the world to close 2016, winning four times worldwide including a seven-shot romp against an elite field in Shanghai. He successfully defended his title in Phoenix in February, but since then he has piled up close calls.

Matsuyama couldn’t chase down Brooks Koepka at Erin Hills, and his chances of winning The Open abruptly ended when he blasted his tee shot out of bounds on the opening hole of the final round.

“It’s tough to be able to putt well and hit good golf shots all at the same time,” Matsuyama said. “Even after that good run, I hoped I could continue on but it didn’t happen and I was hoping to do better.”

Given another crack on a big stage, Matsuyama barely broke a sweat while vanquishing an elite field and adding his name to the storied history at Firestone that includes the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.

“Once he gets going, he just keeps the hammer down and keeps it going. It’s very impressive,” said Rory McIlroy, who won here in 2014 and tied for fifth this week. “I mean, he’s won one WGC in China, he’s probably going to win another one here. That’s sort of the caliber of player he is. I expect him to be right up there next week as well.”

If there’s ever a blueprint for shooting a course record, Matsuyama happened to have one in his back pocket. He had a front-row seat four years ago when Woods shot a 61 on the South Course, a performance that seemed equally effortless and led to a seven-shot win.

“I just couldn’t believe it that anyone could shoot a 61 on this golf course,” Matsuyama said. “And then from that point, to work hard and to be able to do it today is a dream come true.”

True to his nature, though, Matsuyama said he downplayed expectations entering the week. He returned home to Japan after his disappointing final round at Royal Birkdale, and he has logged hours and hours on the range this week in Northeast Ohio trying to groove his swing.

The product of those efforts reinforced the notion that Matsuyama’s best can be matched by few – poor warm-up be damned.

“I worked hard early in the week, and every day I seemed to get closer and closer to where I wanted to be,” Matsuyama said.

The victory vaults Matsuyama back into the Player of the Year discussion, and it instantly makes him one of the favorites for the season’s final major next week at Quail Hollow.

It’s a course where he’s expected to thrive, but perhaps the thing that should strike the most fear into his competition would be another batch of one-armed finishes, mid-shot grimaces and haphazard range sessions.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.