Punch Shot: First-time major winner in 2017?

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The 2016 schedule saw four first-time major winners. Who is most likely to continue that trend? Our writers are (almost) united.

By REX HOGGARD

Maybe it’s because his game isn’t flashy or because he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in the media spotlight, but Hideki Matsuyama has taken being underrated to the extreme.

After winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2016, Matsuyama had his best year in the majors, finishing tied for seventh at the Masters and fourth at the PGA Championship.

Even more impressive is how he finished the year, winning four of his last six starts around the globe, including the WGC-HSBC Champions.

The hottest player in golf at the moment also may have the most complete game. While he doesn’t make many highlight reels with his power, he ranked in the top 20 last season in strokes gained: off-the-tee, tee-to-green and scoring average.

If Matsuyama has even an average week putting, he is easily the best player in golf without a major and the most likely to shed that dubious title.


By RYAN LAVNER

This might be a classic case of recency bias, but Hideki Matsuyama has to be atop the short list of contenders.

A world-class ball-striker, he has worked tirelessly to improve his putting, and the results are astounding: He had four wins, a runner-up and another top-5 finish in his last six starts of 2016. And some of those victories, including the WGC-HSBC Champions, were in a rout.

Unlike, say, Patrick Reed, Matsuyama has already played well in the majors, racking up five top-10s since 2013. (It’s a testament to his all-around game, too, that he has at least one top-10 in all four majors.) The Japanese star is going to bag a couple of majors in his career. Why not begin in 2017, while he’s in the best form of his career?


By WILL GRAY

It’s easy to peg Hideki Matsuyama for this one, given the fact that he ended 2016 as the hottest player in the world. But what fun is it to scroll down the OWGR and tip the top-ranked player still without a major?

I’ll go a bit further down the list for Branden Grace, who has shown over the last two seasons that he has more than enough chops to win one of golf’s four biggest events.

The South African has a penchant for showing up big in majors, with four top-5 finishes over his last seven major starts. That includes a near-miss at Chambers Bay as well as a T-4 finish last year at Baltusrol. Grace notched his first PGA Tour win at the RBC Heritage in April, freeing him up to craft a worldwide schedule of his choosing without having to worry about maintaining his card.

Grace remains one of the world’s best drivers, and big ballparks like Erin Hills and Quail Hollow should play right into his hand. By the time we reach the postseason, we’ll be talking about him as one of the biggest storylines of the year.


By RANDALL MELL

Hideki Matsuyama is a major talent, and he’s showing major affinity for Augusta National. Matsuyama tied for seventh at the Masters last year and was fifth there the year before. We’ve seen how certain names keep getting in the Sunday mix at Augusta National over the years, and Matsuyama is looking like he’s going to be one of those regulars. 

Matsuyama won five times around the world last year, twice on the PGA Tour, with two top 10s in the majors. He tied for fourth at the PGA Championship.

One of the world’s best ball-strikers, Matsuyama has the game tee to green to win multiple majors. He only needs to show he has the putter, too.