Golf

From terrible warm-up to WGC win

Matsuyama now favourite to become first Japanese man to win a Major at PGA Championship this week

If someone had told Hideki Matsuyama during warm-up before the final round that he would shoot a course-record 61 to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he would have rolled his eyes in disbelief.

His swing felt completely out-of-synch during his pre-round practice session yesterday morning (Singapore time), but he somehow turned on the style to shoot one of the best rounds of his career.

The 25-year-old Japanese matched the course record at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio with a nine-under 61 to charge to an emphatic five-stroke victory.

Starting the day two strokes from the lead, Matsuyama never looked back after chipping in for an unlikely 60-foot eagle at the par-five second.

He added seven birdies and turned the final round into a one-man exhibition, offering a timely reminder of why he is likely to become the first Japanese player to win a men's Major at the US PGA Championship this week.

Arriving at the 16th tee, Matsuyama knew he needed to birdie the final three holes to equal the course record held by Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal.

And he responded to the challenge with a series of precise approach shots, completing his closing birdie hat-trick by draining a six-footer at the par-four 18th.

Matsuyama finished on 16-under 264, while American Zach Johnson (68) claimed second on 11 under with his compatriot Charley Hoffman (66) another shot back in third.

"I played with Tiger four years ago when he shot 61, so I knew 61 was the number today," world No. 3 Matsuyama told CBS Sports via an interpreter.

"I knew if I birdied 16, 17 and 18, I could get there."

On his pre-round woes, he said: "You wouldn't have believed how I warmed up this morning.

"I was not hitting it good on the range. I did hit some good shots (during the round), but I was nervous all the way around because I really wasn't sure of my swing today."

“We’re working well out there today and I’m excited to be with him again next week.”Rory McIlroy on his new caddie Harry Diamond

It was Matsuyama's second World Golf Championships victory, after winning the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last October.

The Japanese will head to Quail Hollow in North Carolina for the final Major of the year - the PGA Championship - starting on Friday morning, as one of the favourites after top-15 finishes in the first three Majors this year.

"All I can do is my best," Matsuyama said, noting that he's never been particularly successful in the US PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow.

Some other big names will also take positive vibes to the PGA Championship, including Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy who tied for fifth on seven under in his first start with new caddie Harry Diamond.

"We're working well out there today and I'm excited to be with him again next week," McIlroy said.

American Jordan Spieth also had a solid week in preparation for a tilt at clinching the career Grand Slam of all four Majors after finishing joint-13th on four under.

"My game improved each and every day, even though my score didn't reflect it today, so I'm really excited going into Quail Hollow," Spieth said. - REUTERS

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