Japan’s golden boy of golf successfully defended his title last Sunday in yet another four hole playoff in the Arizona Desert. This year however, he defeated 2012 U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson.
Matsuyama sunk a 12-footer for birdie on the fourth hole of the playoff after a wild round of play on Super Bowl Sunday. Matsuyama finished off Rickie Fowler similarly in 2016’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, though his win last year came with much more help from his playoff opponent.
This year’s tournament featured two incredibly near misses for the title from both Matsuyama and Simpson, after Ben An relinquished his 54-hole lead midway through the fourth round.
The 24 year-old from Japan left a 19 foot birdie putt about an inch short of the cup on the 72nd hole of the tournament to win it all. Simpson left a birdie putt of similar length for the win on the third playoff hole just barely short of the hole. Matsuyama’s win marks his second title in a row at the Waste Management, and his third win this 2016-2017 wraparound season.
With his win on Sunday, Hideki jumped Justin Thomas for first place in the Fedex Cup race, while Thomas missed the cut. Matsuyama has had two runner up finishes and three wins since October, and is the winningest Japanese player ever on the PGA Tour with four wins.
Japan has seen many rising stars come and go on the PGA Tour, each showing boundless promise, but little followthrough. Matsuyama is not one of those players. Only 24 and getting better all the time, Matsuyama is the best Japanese player in the history of the PGA Tour.
Matsuyama may finally be living up to expectations of his home nation, as many Japanese golf critics and fans had doubted his ability to finish off tournaments and finish tournaments in the past. But now, Matsuyama is the hottest player on tour, and is poised to make his first major strike this year. Though it is early in the season, Matsuyama has proven he can win against difficult tournament fields, and in playoffs, which he has a perfect record in (3-0).
But what might be the most important about his wins this season is his vastly improved putting.
Matsuyama relied on his stellar ball-striking to propel him through tournaments in past years, but he now has a more rounded game that doesn’t have to strictly rest on his long drives and beautiful iron play. Success has been abundant this season for the youngster with his boosted putting, though he will have to continue to advance his game if he wants to beat the likes of Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and so many more in this year’s majors.
Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama have led the way this year on the PGA Tour thus far, but the fate of the majors and other tournaments are impossible to predict with so many hungry players in the field.
Matsuyama looks poised to break Japan’s major-less streak this year, and if he can keep playing as he did this past weekend, his chances look good for a major title in 2017.