'Future megastar' Hideki Matsuyama wins first US title
The 22-year-old Asian star becomes fourth Japanese player to win on PGA Tour after play-off at Memorial
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama cemented his status as one of the game’s rising stars on Sunday, winning his first US PGA Tour title in a play-off at the Memorial.
Matsuyama, who had birdied the final hole of regulation to force the play-off with Kevin Na, won at the first play-off hole with a 10-foot par putt.
The 22-year-old Asian star became the fourth Japanese player to win on the US PGA Tour, notching the victory in just his 26th start.
“This is a future megastar,” six-times major champion Nick Faldo said on the CBS television broadcast. “This man is strong physically, mentally and technically.’
His triumph capped a wild final day that saw overnight leader Bubba Watson, the reigning Masters champion, drop out of contention after a bogey at 14 followed by a double-bogey seven at the par-five 15th at Muirfield Village.
Matsuyama’s own hopes looked dim after a double-bogey at the par-three 16th and bogey at 17. He looked to be in trouble again after a poor tee shot at the last but finished with a birdie that capped a three-under par 69 for 13-under 275.
He forced the play-off with South Korea-born American Na, who had been in the clubhouse for some two hours having completed a bogey-free eight-under par 64 for 275.
They returned to 18 for the play-off, and Na was in a stream off the tee.
Matsuyama was in a bunker off the tee and hit into the gallery from there. But he came up with a beautiful flop shot and drained a 10-foot putt for par to seal the victory.
Matsuyama, who won four times on the Japan Tour last year, joined Isao Aoki, Ryuji Imada and Shigeki Maruyama as the only Japanese players to win on the US PGA Tour.
“To win my first PGA Tour event is enough, but to win it here at Mr Nicklaus’course really gives me a lot of confidence going on and hopefully I’ll be able to use this week as a stepping stone to further my career,” he said.
Nicklaus, the most decorated player ever with 18 major titles to his credit, said: “We have a great winner. This young man is going to win a lot of golf tournaments.
“His first win in the United States, you’ve got to start somewhere and we’re proud he’s our winner. Twenty-two years, that’s how old I was when I won my first tournament [the 1962 US Open].”
“One of my goals as a young guy was to win on the US PGA Tour and now that I’ve done that my next goal now is to win one of the four majors,” Matsuyama said.
“I hope the momentum of winning here will carry over to the US Open.”
Watson missed out on the play-off by a stroke. He finished alone in third after an even par 72 for 276.
Sunday’s finish marked just the fifth playoff in Memorial Tournament history, and first since 1992.
Na at least had the consolation of earning an exemption for the US Open, so he won’t have to play a qualifier as planned.
He was among a group of players who started the day seven shots adrift, and said he was inspired on Saturday night when he heard Nicklaus tell a television interviewer he thought those players were in the hunt.
“I thought, ‘Really?’ ” Na said. “It was a battle, but I thought I did very well. It’s a hard golf course. I know the guys are tearing it up, but we all know it’s not easy.”
Watson wasn’t the only big name to prove that.
World number one Adam Scott of Australia had briefly grabbed a share of the lead after a birdie at the 11th.
But he was in the water at 12 en route to a double bogey and ended up with a share of fourth on 278 alongside American Chris Kirk, who carded a 68.
“It’s the way it goes,” said Scott, who also took two shots to get out of a bunker at 14 en route to a 71. “You get lucky breaks and you get bad ones.”
Agence France-Presse, Reuters