CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Hideki Matsuyama appeared to exert little effort during the second round of the PGA Championship while shooting a bogey-free 64 to grab a share of the lead. During the third round, the effort was evident.
After torching Firestone Country Club en route to a five-shot win last week and bending Quail Hollow to his will on Friday, Matsuyama entered the weekend as the betting favorite and was the “man to beat” according to Jordan Spieth. But he never quite got things on track during Round 3, bogeying his opening hole and making only a single birdie all day.
But on a difficult layout that was baked out by a combination of sweltering heat and a handy sub-air system, pars are never a bad thing. As a result, Matsuyama still has a shot at the Wanamaker Trophy as he heads into the final round at 6 under, tied for second and just one shot behind Kevin Kisner.
“I’m disappointed with the way I played today,” Matsuyama said through a translator. “However, I’m happy to just be one stroke back and still have a chance, and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Matsuyama feasted on soft conditions Friday evening after a rain delay halted play for nearly two hours, but the track he faced in the third round was viewed by many players as more reminiscent of a U.S. Open host site than a PGA Championship venue. Matsuyama’s demonstrative post-shot reactions were evident throughout the round, as he became increasingly frustrated by his lack of birdie opportunities.
Matsuyama’s iron approaches simply weren’t able to get the ball close to the hole, and the 12-footer he holed for par on No. 9 proved to be his longest make of the day.
With three wins including two WGC titles, Matsuyama’s season has undoubtedly been a success. But until he becomes the first Japanese male to get his hands on a major trophy, the 25-year-old will face a pressure with which few American fans are familiar.
On Saturday, the elements appeared to have affected a player who had seemed unflappable for much of the last two weeks.
“Probably the pressure had something to do with it, being in the last group of a major tournament,” he said. “But I haven’t been spot on all week. And the worries that I had about my swing showed up today in the way I played.”