Hideki Matsuyama has been one of the hottest golfers on the PGA Tour recently, and that stellar play continued in the Bahamas en route to the 2016 Hero World Challenge Championship.
In a tournament dominated by the return of Tiger Woods, Matsuyama became the story, shooting -18 under (270) to claim the tournament title at the Albany Golf Course.
Ranked No.6 in the world, the Japanese native withstood a late rally from No.4 ranked Henrik Stenson of Sweden who finished two shots back at -16 (272).
Matsuyama entered the fourth and final round with a commanding seven stroke lead, but nearly faltered down the stretch as he bogied 14 while Stenson birdied both 14 and 16.
He had his worst round of the tournament, shooting a 73 on the final day, but was able to hold on down the stretch for the win.
“The back nine was a struggle, especially with that double bogey at 10. But somehow I was able to make pars there at 16, 17, 18, really difficult holes so I’m very happy,” he said, “It’s tough with a seven‑stroke lead, but somehow I was able to pull it off. Hopefully, this experience will help me in the future. I probably felt the most pressure, at 16 after Henrik hit it in there about six feet. But I was able to answer, and when he hit it that close, I was thinking, wow, if I don’t make par here, it’s a two‑shot swing. But thankfully I was able to hit the green and make par there.”
Matsuyama won his first World Golf Championships title last month in Shanghai at the HSBC Champions, winning by seven shots from Stenson and Daniel Berger. He won the Taiheiyo Masters in Japan two weeks later, again by seven shots. He has won four times in his last five events.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t do any tourist things this visit, but it’s such a beautiful country and the beaches and the ocean and the sea, and to be able just to wake up and look out over the beautiful scenery,” Matsuyama said, “And then also to be able to play golf on such a great golf course at the same time, it was a marvelous week.”
On his goals moving forward he said: “Probably number one is to win a major; number two, to win on the PGA Tour and just keep grinding.”
Americans took the next six spots with Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson tied for third at -13 under and Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker tied for sixth at -11 under.
Spieth heralded Matsuyama’s dominant performance all tournament long where he never fell below the second spot, trailing JB Holmes on day one.
“This has been shown before. He [Matsuyama] is on an awesome run right now. It’s hard to call it a run again when it just means that somebody’s got the game clicking. You can’t really call it a run because even when he doesn’t play that well, he still plays well,” Spieth said, “He’s got all the keys. I think he’ll be a major champion within the next couple years personally. It’s awesome to see him tearing it up here.”
In his first competitive tournament in over 15 months, Woods finished 15th in the field at -4 under.
Woods made 24 birdies for the week out of 72 holes, but played the par-5s in just 4 under par. He also made six double bogeys for the week.
“I think it was a great week to be back playing again, competing and playing against some of the best players in the world. Unfortunately, I made a lot of mistakes this week. A lot of birdies, but also made a lot of mistakes,” Woods said, “Big picture, It feels good. It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat these, the best players in the world. I missed it. I love it. I’ve done it, I think this is ‑‑ I’m entering my 21st season I believe, somewhere around there, 20, 21. I’ve been doing it for a very long time and this stretch where I’ve been off for almost a year and a half has been rough and the last few years have been rough. I’ve had some very, very difficult times and have some great friends that have helped me over the times to get me to this point and I’m just so thankful to be back here playing again.”
With his 15th-place finish Woods is projected to move inside the top 650 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Headed into the tournament, he was ranked No. 898.
This year’s Hero World Challenge field included 13 of the top 25 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, three major championship winners from 2016, the Rio Olympics’ gold, silver and bronze medalists, and 12 players who competed in October’s Ryder Cup.
The field of 18 PGA TOUR players invited included the current four major championships winners, the top 11 players available from the Official World Golf Ranking), the defending champion and two special-exemption players.
The Hero World Challenge included a $3.5 million purse, a $1 million winner’s prize and Official World Golf Ranking points awarded.
In its second year hosted in the Bahamas at the Albany Resort, it also included live television coverage by The Golf Channel during all four rounds and by NBC during the third and fourth rounds.