KAPALUA, Hawaii – Hideki Matsuyama is the hottest player on the planet, even if he hasn’t practiced as much as he would’ve preferred over the past three weeks.
Matsuyama hasn’t finished worse than second since September. Since he finished fifth at the Tour Championship, Matsuyama has rattled off four wins and a second-place finish. The biggest victory in that span was at the WGC-HSBC Champions, which he considers his biggest achievement of the year even though he also clipped Rickie Fowler in a playoff to win the Phoenix Open in February. The last victory came three weeks ago in the Bahamas when he easily won the Hero World Challenge.
Since that last victory, Matsuyama said Tuesday that he has had other obligations in Japan and he hasn’t prepared diligently for the SBS Tournament of Champions. But his two favorite moments during the break were when he drank copious amounts of sake – saying, “I had my share, it wasn’t just a little,” – and when he played a round of golf with his father, whom he hadn’t played with in nearly a decade. “It was special,” he said.
Matsuyama, 24, was ranked 18th in the world following the Tour Championship. Three short months later, he’s now ranked sixth.
With the heightened ranking come heightened expectations. For the past couple years he was already on the short list of players expected to soon collect a first major championship, something no one from Japan has ever achieved. Now that he’s rattled off all those wins to end 2016, many believe that major triumph should come this year.
“The expectations of people around me are high,” Matsuyama said Tuesday at Kapalua. “I don’t really worry too much about that. Hopefully not put too much pressure on myself. But I know that other people expect a lot of me, and so all I can do is just try my best.”