AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hideki Matsuyama is the humblest of champions.
While he’s moved over to the champions’ locker room on the second floor of Augusta National’s clubhouse and into his shared space with Larry Mize, when it comes to parking spots, Matsuyama is keeping his old one alongside all the non-winners as to not draw more attention to himself.
But make no mistake, Matsuyama has enjoyed being the defending Masters champion.
“I feel very proud and honored to be here,” Matsuyama said during a sleepy Tuesday morning interview in the press center. “It's been a great year with wins at Zozo and Sony. Last couple of weeks, though, have been a struggle. Hopefully, I can find my game and be a worthy defending champion.”
At No. 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Matsuyama should be on the short list of potential winners this week. But he enters his Masters title defense fresh off two straight withdrawals and nursing a neck injury, which he suffered during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March.
The ailment knocked him out of the WGC-Dell Match Play two weeks ago, and then last week he felt pain-free on Monday and Tuesday of the Valero Texas Open before waking up Wednesday with more stiffness in his neck.
“But I've had, again, a lot of treatment the last couple of days,” said Matsuyama, who played nine holes with fellow Japanese players Takumi Kanaya and Keita Nakajima on Monday. “I just came from the practice range and really felt good. It's probably the best I felt in a long time. So, I'm looking forward to Thursday, and hopefully I'll be 100% by then. … As far as golf, besides the injury, I haven't really been able to hit a full shot, a 100% full shot in a long time, so that's still a question. But I feel like the treatment I've been receiving is helping. I'm on the road to full recovery.”
Matsuyama said Tuesday that he wished he had worn his green jacket more before he’s forced to keep it in his locker permanently beginning this week. He was so worried about something happening to his prized possession that he preferred to look at it more than wear it and didn’t dry clean it once even though it needed it.
He did enjoy hearing himself announced as the defending Masters champion on first tees this season, and before pulling out of Valero, he admitted he was “a little sad” because he would no longer be presented as such.
“It kind of made me feel,” Matsuyama said, “Hey, I need to go out and win it again so I can continue that highlight.”