Hideki Matsuyama hoping to become first Japanese Masters champ
It’s been a quiet build-up to the Masters for world No. 6 Hideki Matsuyama after sitting out six weeks with a thumb injury, but the Japanese star hopes to cram enough practice in time to pass the test at Augusta.
Matsuyama could squeeze in only two starts at Bay Hill and the WGC Match Play after withdrawing from his title defense in Phoenix in February after experiencing pain in his left thumb. With treatment, his thumb feels 100 percent even if his game isn’t.
“There’s a little bit of a doubt, but I think I can get everything worked out in two weeks,” he said at Bay Hill.
The lack of playing time – he missed three usual starts during his rehabilitation – means Matsuyama will put even more emphasis than usual on his early arrival at Augusta a full week before the Masters Tournament starts.
“I will go early again this year; that is going to be my practice time and my preparation for the Masters,” he said. “I’m really going to try to fine-tune it at Augusta National that week before.”
Matsuyama has always felt a special connection to the Masters since twice earning invitations as the Asian Amateur champion and making the cut both times. Still only 26, he’ll be making his seventh start in the Masters.
“There’s something about that special place that really gets me motivated to play the best I can,” he said. “I love Augusta National and enjoy going back there every year. Hopefully through playing there a number of times now I’ve learned what it takes to win. Hopefully my experience I’ve been able to gain will help me learn how to win my first major. I hope it will be there at Augusta.”
Matsuyama has shown a knack for playing in every one of the four majors, with top-six finishes in each. He’s among the most consistent major players, having posted top-20 finishes 12 times in 19 major starts as a professional while missing only three career cuts.
Last year was his best major season yet, with all four finishes 14th or better, including a runner-up in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and a tie for fifth in the PGA at Quail Hollow, where he started the final round one shot off the lead.
As he keeps knocking on the door, 2018 could be the season he breaks through to became the first golfer from Japan to win a major championship.
“It’s one of my goals, of course, to win a major and all my preparation and work is toward winning a major – but it’s not easy,” he said.
There will be four competitors from Japan in this year’s Masters field, the most since 2011, when Matsuyama finished low amateur in his first appearance. Japan’s long history at the Masters goes back before World War II, when Toichiro “Torchy” Toda and Seisui “Chick” Chin were two of only four international players in the field in 1936.
Matsuyama attained the status as the highest-ranked Japanese golfer in history, having reached No. 2 in the world after last year’s PGA. Despite finishing fifth, seventh and 11th in his past three starts at Augusta, he still hasn’t reached the record high Masters finishes of countrymen Shingo Katayama (fourth in 2009) and Toshi Izawa (tie for fourth in 2001).
“It’s going to be an exciting Masters in Japan, especially if four of us are able to play,” he said. “All of Japan realizes and understands that Augusta is a special place. All I can do is do my best and hopefully it will go well for me this year.”