LONDON – Fast-rising star Hideki Matsuyama is one of the dark horses set to tee off at the British Open on Thursday as he bids to become the first Japanese player to win a major.
The 22-year-old has caused a storm since winning his first event on the Japanese Tour as an amateur in 2011 before turning professional last year.
Four further wins on his domestic tour lifted him into the world’s top 50 and he conquered the PGA Tour earlier this year with his first victory at the Memorial.
A playoff win over American Kevin Na and a current best-ever ranking of 15 in the world has not gone overlooked by the rest of the tour’s elite, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
“I think his future is very bright. He won at Memorial and I played with him actually at Firestone last year, as well,” Woods said ahead of the Thursday tee-off at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
“He played well, he’s got a lot of game, he’s young and he still has a lot of development to go. He’s only going to get better and he certainly has a wealth of talent and we’ll see what happens.”
The right-hander was the highest-finishing low amateur on his first appearance at a major in 2011 when he tied for 27th at the Masters won by South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel.
Then came his breakthrough season in 2013 with the four victories in Japan and a supremely impressive showing at the British Open where he finished tied for sixth at Muirfield.
The 2010 Asian amateur champion also finished 10th at the U.S. Open in 2013 as he continues to knock hard on the door of becoming only the second Asian to win a major after South Korea’s Yang Yong-eun won the PGA Championship in 2009.
He says the Hoylake layout should provide ideal conditions suited to his aggressive game.
“I’ll be looking to play the ideal tee-shots depending on the situation but it will depend a lot on the direction of the wind which can change a lot on this course,” said Matsuyama.
“There is the option to attack the back sides of the green with an iron or also playing it short but putting will be important.
“The conditions will be varying this week and if I don’t use the driver off the tee, I can still go for it on my second shot.”
McIlroy, a two-time major winner and former world No. 1, is just another of his growing legion of admirers and played alongside the talented Asian during the first two rounds of the British Open last year when American Phil Mickelson lifted the Claret Jug.
“I think Hideki is a very good player and it was great to see him break through at the Memorial there a few weeks ago,” said McIlroy who won his majors in 2011 at the U.S. Open as well as the 2012 PGA Championship.”
“I’ve played with him a number of times and he’s very impressive. He’s a great ball striker, a very good putter, very aggressive putter, and he impressed me this time last year when I played with him for the first two rounds,” continued McIlroy about their first 36 holes at the British Open.
“So, yeah, it seems Japan are producing some good, young players and it’s great to see.”
“I’m pretty friendly with Ryo Ishikawa as well and it’s been good to see him play a little better too. Looks like Japanese golf is in good hands.” added McIlroy in reference to the player who became the youngest Japanese winner of a professional domestic event in 2007 at just 15 years and 8 months.
He is now ranked 76th in the world.