With a green jacket already in his closet at home, Japan’s golf star Hideki Matsuyama is looking to conclude a “perfect” season when he makes his eighth successive appearance at the TOUR Championship this week.
The 29-year-old became his nation’s first male major champion following a triumph for the ages at the Masters Tournament in April and now has the opportunity to battle for the PGA TOUR’s ultimate prize, the FedExCup, in the Playoffs Finale at East Lake Golf Club.
“Winning the Masters and making it here to East Lake are probably the two things I’m most happy about and find the most satisfaction in,” said Matsuyama, who like Patrick Reed, holds the second most consecutive appearances at the TOUR Championship behind Dustin Johnson (13).
“It’s always a goal of mine to get to the TOUR Championship, and being able to make it here from my first year (in 2014) to now my eighth straight time makes me extremely happy. And to be able to play my best golf here will be a perfect end to the season.”
His highest finish in the FedExCup is eighth place in 2017 after he entered the Playoffs ranked No. 1. If he is to rewrite more golf history by becoming the first Asian winner of the FedExCup, he needs to overcome an initial nine-stroke deficit in the first round. Current No. 1 Patrick Cantlay, winner of the BMW Championship last week, starts the week on 10-under in the staggered-scoring tournament which ranks players based on their FedExCup positions entering this week.
While the gap seems insurmountable, Matsuyama can find inspiration from his maiden PGA TOUR win at the Memorial Tournament in 2014 where he entered the second round some seven shots back of the lead before winning in a playoff.
“Starting the tournament already nine strokes back is obviously a lot to overcome, but if I can play one good shot at a time over the next four days, I don’t see why I couldn’t leave myself with a chance to win in the end,” said Matsuyama.
“Outside of the Masters and WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational (where he lost in a playoff), I haven’t really finished that well this year, so it’s hard to say what parts of my game have gotten better. But despite all that, I do feel like my overall shots are improving.”
His annual visit to the TOUR Championship means Matsuyama knows the venerable East Lake layout like the back of his palm and understands that driving accuracy will be a premium. He is ranked 14th in the season-long Strokes Gained: Tee to Green stat but his form with his putter is an area he is keen to see improvements as he is ranked 177th. At the start of the week, Matsuyama bought a practice putting mat with the intention to have additional practice in his hotel room.
“Putting the ball in the fairway is extremely important in order to give yourself a chance to score here, so for me, setting yourself up with the right angles from off the tee is probably the most difficult part,” he said.
“While my putting stats are not as good, I see some improvement happening there and at the end of the day, all of those things are connected together.”
With US$15 million on offer to the FedExCup champion, Matsuyama said he would invest in a new home should he produce a come-from-behind victory in the season finale. “First thing I’d probably buy would be a house,” he laughed. “I’m not a player that really does anything too flashy.
“I’m going to try to give it one last push to finish the season strong.”