Matsuyama, Walker Share Comfort Zone at Hyundai
By Rodney S. Yap
With all the conditions golfers have to contend with, keeping it simple at The Plantation Course is proving to be the best strategy for Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
“I like the views and so I like the course,” said Matsuyama, who shot a seven-under 66 on Sunday to match the best score of the week. The 22-year-old made three consecutive birdies on the front nine and back nine, and closed with a delicate pitch down a slope to within two feet of the cup for a birdie on the par-5 18th.
Jimmy Walker will join Matsuyama in Monday’s final pairing after firing his second bogey-free 67 of the week to grab a share of the third-round lead at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Walker has only made one bogey over the opening 54 holes.
It’s been all about the comfort level for both Matsuyama and Walker this week.
“I’m sure I’m going to feel more comfortable,” said Walker. “Just being out here longer, mature, more mature, more experienced, that type thing. I’ll tell you I was nervous driving on the first tee on Friday for the first round, and didn’t eat all my breakfast this morning because I was, you know, I was pumped and amped about the day. So I’ll be excited and ready to go tomorrow.
“It’s all part of golf, being excited and excited to play and a chance to win.”
Matsuyama said he is not surprised he’s played well here.
“Obviously this is my first time here, so I don’t know if the wind this week has been hard or it’s been light wind. I’m not sure. But if the wind can stay like this, I think I’ll be okay tomorrow.”
Matsuyama shared the lead at Colonial last year and hopes to draw from that experience on Monday.
“You know, I think I’m playing better golf now than I was back then. Back then, you know, if I made a bogey, I think I let it affect me. But I think I’m a little bit more relaxed now, and so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Sang-Moon Bae (69) and Patrick Reed (68) were two shots behind.
Defending champion Zach Johnson, among four players tied for the second-round lead, stumbled to a 73 and was six shots behind.
Walker is going for his fourth victory since his inaugural win at the Frys.com Open to start the 2013-14 season, and he was among the few bright spots in a U.S. loss at the Ryder Cup last September. A victory would make him only the fifth player to win at both courses on the Hawaii swing.
“Definitely more comfortable here this year than I was last. It’s a big golf course and it’s a lot to look at, take in, that type thing, and getting comfortable reading the greens and with the grain, the uphill, downhill, the mountains and ocean, and it’s tough.
“Like I still struggled on my putt on 18 today. My caddie, Andy, said it was flat. I thought it looked a little down; it was down grain. The wind’s coming this way; you’re putting back up the mountain, but it sure feels there’s some local knowledge still out there, I think, especially on some of those putts. I mean the putt on 17, you know, you’ve got this big one like this and it’s just, it’s tough, I think.”
Matsuyama was the first rookie to win the Japan Golf Tour money list, played in the Masters twice as an amateur (both times making the cut) and had a breakthrough win last year at the Memorial. He is a strong player, with a pause at the top of his swing and plenty of power through impact.
Only three other players have won at Kapalua in their debut since this winners-only event moved to Kapalua in 1999.
Brendon Todd (69) and Russell Henley (70) were three shots back and still very much in the game.
Henley was among four players tied for the lead going into Sunday and played reasonably well except for a few mistakes. One was a chip on the reachable sixth hole, which moved about 5 feet and just onto the green, leaving a fast putt. He three-putted, turning birdie into bogey.