Charlotte: Hideki Matsuyama can’t imagine what impact becoming the first Japanese men’s major golf champion would have on him or his homeland, but he wants to find out on Sunday.
The 25-year-old world No. 3 birdied five of the last seven holes at Quail Hollow in a bogey-free seven-under par 64 second round on Friday to grab a share of the lead with American Kevin Kisner at the PGA Championship.
Asked what winning the groundbreaking title would mean for him and for Japanese golf, Matsuyama said through a translator, “I’m not really sure. That’s a difficult question, one that’s hard to think about, what effect that would have on my life, my family’s life.
“I’m not sure. I try to imagine, but we still have a lot of golf to play.
“Hopefully, come Sunday, I can come back (as champion) and that would help increase the popularity of the men’s game in Japan.”
Matsuyama fired a 61 last Sunday to win the World Golf Championships event in Akron, calling it probably the best round of his career. It’s also a boost that has carried the US Open runner-up into major contention yet again.
“I am playing well. But whether it’s the best that I’ve ever played in my career, I’m not sure,” Matsuyama said.
“I’m probably not playing as well as I did at the end of last year. However, I’m riding the momentum from the round that I had on Sunday and hopefully I can keep that going for 36 more holes.”
Matsuyama rescued par at the ninth with a 22-foot putt, then began his birdie charge with a 12-foot putt at the par-4 12th and six-footers at the par-3 13th and par-4 14th before a storm halted play.
“I was grateful for the rain delay because I was getting tired. I was able to lay down in the locker room and get some rest,” he said.
“I think what was making me tired was I wasn’t hitting my driver like I wanted to. I was hitting fairways but I wasn’t getting the crisp contact that I was hoping for with my driver.”
Matsuyama said he couldn’t count all his worst shots but said he scored so well “because somehow my worst shots were finding the fairway.”
Matsuyama, who has kept a new putter he switched to last week, marvelled at his putting as well.
“The greens here are really fast and there are a lot of putts that honestly, I’m not trying to make,” he said. “I’m just trying to get it up near the hole and a lot of them are going in.”
‘Hardest worker out here’
Matsuyama said he was touched by a congratulations message for his Akron victory he received from Jason Day, the seventh-ranked Australian who stands third just two shots behind him now.
“I said, ‘Congrats, Mate. Unreal playing. See you next week.’ It’s nothing special,” Day said. “He just said, ‘Thank you, JASON, see you at Quail Hollow.’ But he did put it in all-caps, so that made it feel special. He has been a good friend for a while now.”
Day marvels at Matsuyama’s commitment to success.
“It just looks like that guy right now has his priority set on playing good golf,” Day said. “Even before he was winning that tournament, he’s on the range and he’s the last guy to leave. He’s always putting. He’s always doing something.
“He’s working hard. And I feel like he’s the hardest worker out here right now, just because he wants to win. And there’s no surprise that he won last week and he’s up here again.”
Day said Matsuyama’s effort has turned putting from a vulnerability into a weapon.
“To be able to change that weakness into a strength is why he’s so dominating right now,” Day said.