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[ODDS and EVENS] Hideki Matsuyama Returns to Winning Form at the Genesis Invitational

Veteran golfer Hideki Matsuyama rallied to win the PGA Tour event, carding a 9-under 62 in the final round and achieving victory without back pain.

For Hideki Matsuyama, winning the Genesis Invitational on Sunday, February 18 was significant for several reasons.

As every pro golfer can tell you, winning isn't easy. Sunday's effort ― a terrific 9-under 62 performance at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California ― ended a title drought. Before Sunday, Matsuyama's most recent PGA Tour title was at the Sony Open in January 2022. 

In addition, Matsuyama became the winningest Asian-born golfer on the PGA Tour, increasing his total to nine tournament titles. South Korea's KJ Choi has eight.

What else was significant about the victory?

Matsuyama entered the final round six shots behind the leader, American Patrick Cantlay, who sat in first place after three rounds at 14-under. At that point, Matsuyama was tied for seventh at 8-under.

And then Matsuyama responded with a bogey-free final round featuring nine birdies. It included a sizzling 30 (and six birdies) on the back nine. No one else carded lower than a 65 on the pivotal final day.

Matsuyama completed the tournament at 17-under 267. Will Zalatoris and Luke List, both of whom are Americans, tied for second at 14-under 270.

For those keeping score at home, Matsuyama's payday ($4 million USD, or about ¥600 million JPY) wasn't chump change, either.

Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama putts on the 14th hole during the final round of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club. (Jason Parkhurst/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Two More Significant Points

Why else should Matsuyama's Genesis Invitational title be recognized as significant? 

Let me give you two reasons: 

1. It occurred a week before his 32nd birthday (February 25). So this year and in every year that follows he can always associate a happy event in the run-up to this day. 

2. Matsuyama coped with a lingering back injury in 2023. This included being forced to pull out of the BMW Championship in August. He played pain-free golf for four rounds last week at Riviera Country Club.

Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama, the 2024 Genesis Invitational winner. (Jason Parkhurst/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Hideki Matsuyama Reacts to Winning the Genesis Invitational

In a post-tournament news conference, the Ehime Prefecture native spoke about surpassing Choi's PGA Tour record for most victories by an Asian. He also reflected on the chronic back pain that he endured, starting in March 2022 that carried over into 2023.

"Reaching nine wins was one of my big goals, passing KJ Choi," Matsuyama was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. After my eighth win, I've been struggling with my back injury. 

"There were a lot of times when I felt I was never going to win again. I struggled reaching the top 10 (he placed in the top 10 in two tournaments in 2023), but I'm really happy that I was able to win today."

Specifically, Matsuyama noted that after sustaining a neck and back injury in March 2022 at the Bay Hill Invitational in Florida, he has dealt with anxiety about his physical condition.

"Ever since that injury, I was worried every week something bad might happen," Matsuyama said, according to The Associated Press. "This week I had no issue. I played without any worries. That really helped."

As Matsuyama's performance demonstrated on Sunday, he has the fortitude to be a force on the PGA Tour when he is healthy and playing effective golf.

He had three straight birdies in the final round on holes 15-17 to put a fitting touch to his dynamic round.

Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama tees off in the final round of the Genesis Invitational. (AP/via KYODO)

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An Impressive Achievement

Originally known as the Los Angeles Open, the event now known as the Genesis Invitational has been around since 1926 when American Harry Cooper won the inaugural title with a 9-under 279.

With the aforementioned 9-under 62, Matsuyama matched the lowest-ever score in the final round in this tournament at Riviera Country Club. (Phil Rodgers shot a 62 in 1962.) It was also the best-ever final round ever at Riviera by a winner in tourney history.

Xander Schauffele completed his final round after Matsuyama wrapped up his day on the course. He finished at 13-under 271 in a three-way tie for fourth.

Later in the day, Schauffele, men's golf gold medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, recalled glancing at the scoreboard and seeing that Matsuyama had ended up at 17 under. He summed it up this way, The Associated Press reported: "...It was a bit of a deflater, I'm sure for the rest of the field. But hats off to him. It's incredible. He's done it a few times now, shooting lights out on Sunday."

Such as?

Prime example: Matsuyama carded a final-round 61 at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, to win the 2017 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational by five strokes.

Perspective from Matsuyama's Playing Partner

JP Poston had a firsthand look at Matsuyama's superb play as his assigned partner for the final round. In an interview with the PGA Tour's official website, Poston said he was in awe of the Japanese golfer's performance.

"I'm trying to think if that was the most impressive round I've ever seen in person," Poston said, according to this news report on the PGA Tour website. "It's definitely the best I've ever seen on [the] tour. He had like four birdie putts that were like this ― (Poston put his two index fingers 6 inches apart)." 

Poston continued: "He hit a couple bad drives, but then recovered nicely and never even really had that long of a par putt. It was impressive."

Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama had nine birdies in the final round. (KYODO)

Matsuyama Seeks to Build Off Victory

In the weeks to come, Matsuyama aims to play consistently solid golf as he prepares for the Masters, which will be held April 11-14, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.

The first Japanese to win the Masters in 2021, Matsuyama noted that the Genesis Invitational gave him a helpful measuring stick to see what aspects of his game need the most work.

"I wasn't striking the ball really well, but my chipping and putting was working a lot this week," Matsuyama said after the final round of the Genesis Invitational, according to BBC Sport.

"It's really important for me to keep this momentum, especially going to Augusta."

So keep an eye on Hideki Matsuyama as he seeks to once again be a force to be reckoned with at the Masters.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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