DUBLIN, OHIO – Hideki Matsuyama earned his first victory in the United States and validation as one of golf’s young stars Sunday with a birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff and a 10-foot par putt on the first extra hole to win the Memorial.
In a tournament that Masters champions Bubba Watson and Adam Scott threw away on a wild back nine, Matsuyama looked certain to join them.
He lost the lead by dropping three shots on two holes, and he didn’t look like a winner when he pushed his drive toward the bunkers on the final hole. Lightly slamming his driver to the turf in disgust, the head broke off. Matsuyama followed with an approach to just outside 5 feet for birdie and a 3-under 69.
That forced a playoff with Kevin Na, who finished his round of 64 about two hours earlier.
Matsuyama chose not to replace his broken driver in the playoff, and his 3-wood went into the bunker. Na drove left into the creek and still had about 10 feet for bogey on the 18th hole in the playoff when Matsuyama made his par putt.
“Right from the 15th hole, I had a lot of missed shots,” Matsuyama said. “The double bogey at 16, bogey at 17, not a real good tee shot — I thought — at 18. But when I saw the ball on the fairway on the 18th hole there, that’s when I was able to think I still have a chance.
The 22-year-old pumped his fist as the ball was a few inches from dropping.
“I’m really, really happy,” Matsuyama said through his interpreter. “It’s a dream come true to win at Mr. Nicklaus’ course.”
Matsuyama won for the sixth time in his career, all of them on the Japan Golf Tour. He had a pair of top 10s in the majors last year.
Tournament host Jack Nicklaus greeted him behind the 18th green. Nicklaus spent much of the back nine in the broadcast booth, and it was a brand of golf that was unfamiliar to golf’s greatest champion. The Memorial became only the latest event where proven players faltered badly.
Watson, who started the final round with a one-shot lead, was still in control until a couple of wild tee shots — one into deep rough on the 14th that led to bogey, and one so far right on the par-5 15th that it went over the trees and into a neighborhood, far out-of-bounds. That led to double bogey and he never recovered. Watson closed with a 72 and finished one shot out of the playoff.
“It’s tough,” said Watson, who was going for his third win of the year. “I made one bad decision. If I hit 4-wood off the tee instead of driver on the par 5, we make 5 and we win by one. But I made double, so we lost by one.”
Scott had a share of the lead after 11 holes and was poised for his second straight PGA Tour win. But he put his tee shot into the water on the par-3 12th for double bogey, took two shots to get out of a bunker on the 14th for bogey, and then dropped another shot at the 15th when his wedge hit the pin and caromed back into the fairway. He closed with a 71 and tied for fourth with Chris Kirk (68).
“The whole thing is frustrating as I stand here right now,” Scott said. “But everyone is going to feel like that. We all could have done something different. If we all did, who knows what the result would be?”
Na was in the clubhouse at Muirfield Village, leaning against two pillows watching this collection of errors, even joking that he might win by sitting on a couch. He finally headed out to the range, but one swing into the water was too much to overcome.
The only consolation for Na was that his runnerup finish moved him high enough in the world ranking that he will be exempt for the U.S. Open. He had planned on going through 36-hole qualifying Monday.
Matsuyama was able to replace his driver because the playoff is not part of the final round. Instead, he chose to take 3-wood. It looked as if it might cost him when the shot was well back and caught the bunker. Na helped by finding the water. Matsuyama’s approach hit a fan left of the green, but he played a good chip and made the most important putt of his young career.
Matsuyama should rise to about No. 13 in the world ranking.
“I just think you’ve just seen the start of what’s going to be truly one of your world’s great players over the next 10 to 15 years,” Nicklaus said.
A two-time winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur — he made the cut both times at the Masters as an amateur — he took a different route than Ryo Ishikawa by waiting to turn pro until a year ago. Matsuyama won once as an amateur, and he won in his pro debut in Japan.