Golf

Hideki Matsuyama Triumphs in One-Hole Playoff at Sony Open

The reigning Masters champion rallied from five strokes behind on the back nine to win his first title of the year.

Hideki Matsuyama holds the champion's trophy after winning the Sony Open on January 16 at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. (Matt York/AP)

Hideki Matsuyama exhibited poise and confidence throughout the final round of the Sony Open on Sunday, January 16 in Honolulu.

His steady demeanor paid off in a big way en route to a dramatic comeback victory at Waialae Country Club.

The 2021 Masters champion rebounded from a five-stroke deficit over the back nine to force a playoff. Then he defeated American Russell Henley with a clutch eagle in the one-hole playoff to cap the whirlwind victory, his eighth on the PGA Tour.

Setting up his winning eagle, Matsuyama made a splendid approach shot, a 3-wood from 276 yards that landed 2 feet from the cup. (See the playoff highlight here.) 

He tapped in the putt on the 5-par 18th hole, then waited as Henley, the 2013 Sony champion, finished at 1-over par on the playoff hole.

Kevin Kisner and Seamus Power finished tied for third at 19-under 261. 

Satoshi Kodaira carded a 65 in the final round and ended up in a four-way tie for 12th at 15-under 265.

In 1983, Isao Aoki became the first Japanese golfer to win a PGA Tour event, taking home the top prize in the Hawaiian Open, which changed its name to Sony Open in 1999.

Looking back on the pivotal moment in the tournament, Matsuyama said he capitalized on the opportunity.

“It was a perfect number for me for a cut 3-wood, 276 yards left to right, follow [the] wind,” he told reporters. “I knew the green was soft enough to hold it, and I was able to pull it off.”

Matsuyama, the winner of the ZOZO Championship last October in Chiba Prefecture, acknowledged that he couldn’t see where the ball landed on the 276-yard drive. Instead, the gallery’s excitement confirmed what he had hoped for.

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“Everybody started cheering and I knew it was good,” he said.

Matsuyama finished at 23-under 257, with back-to-back 7-under 63s in the third and fourth rounds. He shot a 66 in the opening round and a 65 on the second day.

Entering the final round, the 29-year-old Ehime Prefecture native was two strokes behind leader Henley.

After three-putting on the ninth hole and finding himself five strokes off the pace at the midway point of the final round, Matsuyama faced a daunting challenge.

“Again, I was five back but I just put my head down and I was playing pretty well,” Matsuyama said. “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.”

Henley Impressed with Matsuyama’s Performance

On the final hole of the fourth round, Henley missed a birdie putt, which would have given him the title. Instead, it forced a playoff.

Henley praised Matsuyama for his steady play down the stretch and noted that his performance was a bit off.

“A little bit sloppy on the back nine but made the par saves I needed to make to put pressure on Hideki. He just played incredible golf today,” Henley said. “I wish I could have put some more pressure on him. Tough to beat 3-wood to 2 feet on 18.”

What was the turning point in the final round for Matsuyama?

Big shots on the 10th and 11th holes ignited his comeback.

Or as he put it: “Yeah, Russell was playing so beautifully 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.”

A week ago, Matsuyama opened the year tied for 13th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii.

And now, as he prepares for upcoming tournaments, the mental burden of not winning a major is, well, ancient history. 

Winning the Masters in April 2021 changed his life, Matsuyama said, in his post-victory news conference in Honolulu, because “the pressure of not winning a major” is gone.

Matsuyama is scheduled to return to competition January 26-29 at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, California.

But first things first. He planned to celebrate on Sunday night.

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“I’ll have my share of sake tonight and we’ll see you all in San Diego at Torrey Pines,” he announced.

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Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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