Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama set his sights firmly on winning a major after destroying a world-class field to become the first Asian to win a World Golf Championship at the weekend.
“Winning today, I feel has got me closer to being able to compete a lot better in the major tournaments,” said the 24-year-old sensation after winning the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in record-breaking style.
Matsuyama finished on 23 under-par to win by seven shots — the biggest margin in the history of the event dubbed ‘Asia’s Major’ — from Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger, with Rory McIlroy and Bill Haas one shot further back.
“My next goal is, of course, to win a major. I’m going to do all that I can to prepare well for that,” added Matsuyama. YE Yang is the only Asian man to have won a major — the 2009 US PGA Championship.
Matsuyama, with two wins a second in his last three starts, rose to a career high sixth in the world in the new rankings released yesterday. His victory in Shanghai means he already leads the 2017 US PGA Tour FedEx Cup points standings.
The WGC-HSBC Champions was his 10th victory and his third on the PGA Tour since turning professional in August 2013, equalling Shigeki Maruyama’s record for the most PGA Tour wins in history by a Japanese player.
“Shigeki Maruyama is a good friend of mine, and he always said that I was going to pass his records,” said Matsuyama. “But at least I’ve tied him now. That was a great honour, because I have great respect for him.”
Matsuyama made it look ridiculously easy at Sheshan International Golf Club against a field that contained all four current major champions, 10 major champions in all, eight of the world’s top 10 and 40 of the world’s top 50.
None could live with the Japanese whose worst round of the week in testing conditions was a four-under par 68 as he racked up 29 birdies, three shy of the all-time PGA Tour record, and his last 45 holes without recording a bogey.
“Hideki played just unbelievable and it was a pleasure to watch,” said Berger. “You can learn a lot from watching him at work.”
British Open champion and Olympic silver medallist Stenson paid tribute. “He showed everyone how he could keep his foot on the pedal. It was an impressive runaway win,” said the Swede who has moved above Jordan Spieth to world number four.
Matsuyama has collected a staggering $2,376,000 in prize money in an eight-day whirl after second place in Kuala Lumpur and the Shanghai win, but said all he
wanted to do was ring his parents back home in Japan.
“I owe it all to them. They have done so much for me and I’m so grateful for them. They are the ones I want to be able to call first and tell them I won,” he said.
Last week he became the first Japanese player to reach the world’s top 10 since Jumbo Ozaki in April 1998 and has moved ahead of major winners such as Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Danny Willett in the new rankings.
His rise comes as little surprise, as Matsuyama has been a prolific winner from an early age when he was known in amateur circles as the “boy with the strong heart”.
He qualified for the US Masters twice by winning two Asian Amateur championships in 2010 and 2011. At 19, he won the silver medal for leading amateur at the 2011 Masters and was also ranked number one world amateur.
He won only his second event as a pro in 2013 and a year later won his first US PGA Tour title at the Memorial Tournament in a play-off against Kevin Na.
He was handed the trophy by tournament host and golf legend Jack Nicklaus. “It was like a dream come true,” Matsuyama recalled.
Nicklaus was impressed with the then 22-year-old. “This young man’s going to win a lot of tournaments,” he predicted.