Hideki Matsuyama back on the title trail

It’s fair to say that very few anticipated Hideki Matsuyama’s stunning triumph at the Masters back in April. With a field full of the sport’s biggest names, many of whom have been vying for a Green Jacket for many years. But it was the Japanese hero who reigned supreme, holding his nerve in the final round to secure a memorable triumph.

However, in the months since, Matsuyama had been fairly quiet. That was until last week, when he ended his tournament drought by winning the Zozo Championship in his native Japan. The fact that the competition had returned to Japan, after being held in California last year, made the win extra special, and it was no surprise that Matsuyama was feeling inspired.

A five-shot lead over second-placed Cameron Tringale suggests that Matsuyama was playing at the top of his game, but the 29-year-old was quick to assert afterwards that he did not feel he was playing anywhere near the level of his Masters win, and that the home crowd had a huge part to play.

“I would rate my performance as two or three [out of 10],” Matsuyama said. “From the results perspective, it went to about eight, but I think it’s because of all the energy that I was getting from the fans, and I was very surprised how much energy I was feeding off of them. I was the only Japanese player contending and was up on the leaderboard. To be honest, there were some pressures to deal with, but I’m glad I was able to convert that to positives.”

The special feeling of winning tournament on home soil can’t be underestimated, especially when you consider that Matsuyama and many other overseas players have been unable to travel home to see their families and loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic. That will have made it all the sweeter for Matsuyama, with the Zozo Championship being his first PGA tournament in Japan since he won the Masters.

That performance at Augusta National was superb, and showcased Matsuyama’s ability to hold his nerve under the most extreme pressure. The goal now is to back it up with more and more titles, and now that he’s won another PGA Tour event, he should have the confidence to go on and add plenty more.

Of course, major championships will be top of the agenda. Following the success in the Masters, Matsuyama didn’t really back it up in 2021’s subsequent majors. A tied-for-23rd finish was all he could manage in the PGA Championship, followed by a tied-for-26th result in the US Open. He didn’t take part in The Open, and then lost in the dramatic seven-man play-off for a bronze medal in the Olympic Games.

It will be interesting to see how Matsuyama fares when he returns to Augusta to defend his Masters crown in April. He’ll be considered one of the betting exchange favourites, but no one has won the Masters in two successive years since Tiger Woods in 2002 and 2003, and that’s the scale of the challenge facing the Japanese star.

For now, the world number 12 can bask in the glow of his win at the Zozo Championship. It might not have been Matsuyama at his best, but it gave a sign of just how impressive he can be when he hits the right notes on the golf course.

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