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Matsuyama revels in record win

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-18 09:44
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Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama celebrates after winning the Sony Open in Hawaii by defeating American Russell Henley in a playoff at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu on Jan 16, 2022. [Photo/IC]

Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama delivered a grandstand finish in a playoff against a luckless Russell Henley to lift his career eighth title at the Sony Open in Hawaii on Sunday and equal KJ Choi's record of total victories by an Asian golfer on the PGA Tour.

The 29-year Matsuyama rallied from five strokes back with nine holes remaining at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu to tie overnight leader Henley on 23-under 257 in regulation. The Japanese then thumped a spectacular three-wood approach on the 18th hole to inside of 3 feet (1 meter) for his winning eagle in extra time as Henley struggled home with a bogey.

Matsuyama, who signed for a final-round 7-under 63, couldn't see his approach against a setting sun but the roars of approval from the crowds around the green were enough indication to know he had delivered the knockout punch.

"To be honest I didn't even see it," said Matsuyama. "But everybody started cheering and I knew it was good."

His third victory in nine months - Matsuyama won the Masters for his first major title last April and the Zozo Championship at home in October-pushed him to top spot in the latest FedExCup standings, and made him only the second Japanese winner at the Sony Open after Isao Aoki's historic feat in 1983.

The victory moved Matsuyama up to 10th in the world rankings.

After Henley found a fairway trap in the playoff hole, Matsuyama hit a perfect drive that split the fairway, and then followed up with a precise second to close the deal. "It was a perfect number for me for a cut 3-wood, 276 yards (252 meters) left to right, follow wind. I knew the green was soft enough to hold it, and I was able to pull it off," he said.

"Russell was playing so beautifully on the front nine, but at the turn I was thinking, 'he can't keep this up, can he?' I was able to birdie 10 and then a two-shot swing at 11 and then the game was on again. I was five back but I just put my head down and I was playing pretty well; I was 3-under at the time, so I figured, well, if I could make a few more birdies maybe I can get back into it."

He credited the strong support he received from the galleries, which included a large number of Japanese fans, for pulling him through when his back was against the wall.

"Yeah, even at the turn when I was five back, I could hear the cheers from my countrymen. That really spurred me on," said Matsuyama.

"I feel great. To be able to win back-to-back with Zozo and here with at the Sony, and especially on a course that I haven't really played that well. It's a tough golf course for me. So I'm extra excited, extra happy because of that."

Matsuyama admitted winning the Masters last year-when he became the first Japanese to wear the green jacket-has been a weight off his shoulders and allowed him to freewheel more.

"Because the pressure of not winning a major has gone," said Matsuyama, who has now tied South Korea's Choi for the most wins by an Asian player on the PGA Tour. Choi won his eighth title in 2011. "I'll have my share of sake tonight," Matsuyama said.

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