Hideki Matsuyama fulfilled a lifetime ambition of winning a PGA Tour event on home turf when he eagled the 72nd hole to cap a majestic Zozo Championship victory on Sunday.
The US Masters champion sealed victory with the shot of the week, a stunning five-wood from 250 yards to set up an eagle three at the par-five 18th at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, outside Tokyo.
Matsuyama drained the 15-foot putt to an ecstatic roar from the 5,000 adoring home fans surrounding the green and punched the air as he completed a magnificent final-round 65 for a five-shot victory over American Cameron Tringale.
Eagle on 18 to win by FIVE.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 24, 2021
“It is just great to be able to play in front of so many fans here in Japan and to be able to play well. I’m thrilled,” said a smiling Matsuyama, who finished on 15-under total of 265.
For Matsuyama, Japan’s first male major winner, it was his seventh PGA Tour triumph and made up for the huge disappointment of failing to win a medal in his home Olympics this summer.
The Japanese No 1 had found it hard to contain his anguish after losing out in a seven-way playoff for Tokyo 2020 bronze after putting himself under immense pressure at his home Games.
He admitted to being tense again on Sunday as he fought back from a shot down at the 10th, saying he didn’t loosen up until “that second shot there” at the final hole.
Matsuyama had pushed Tiger Woods all the way at the inaugural Zozo Championship at Narashino Country Club in 2019 as the 15-time major winner bagged a record-equalling 82nd PGA Tour win having led from gun to tape.
Matsuyama promised his fans, after being pipped on that occasion by an immaculate display of golf from one of the best players ever to wield a club, that he would come back next year and win.
He was as good as his word, although it took 12 months longer than anticipated because of the tournament shifting to California last year because of the coronavirus.
Ahead of Tringale by a stroke after the third round, Matsuyama had extended his lead by draining a 30-foot putt for eagle at the sixth hole to get to 12-under.
But he gave a shot back at the difficult eighth, allowing Tringale to move into a tie at the top of the leaderboard with his second birdie of the day at the ninth.
The 34-year-old American, seeking his maiden PGA Tour win 12 years after turning professional, followed with another at the par-four 10th to take the lead for the first time as the tournament turned into a back-nine duel between the pair.
Roared on by the spectators, Matsuyama stepped up a gear and seized back control with a superb run of three birdies in five holes.
Matsuyama sunk a left-to-right 30-footer at the 11th to draw level before a perfectly judged downhill 15-foot putt at the short 13th nosed him in front.
The best of the bunch, a smoothly holed 31-foot putt at the 15th, gave Matsuyama a two-shot cushion which was still intact as the pair stood on the 18th tee.
Tringale found himself in trouble with his second shot, which ended up in rough behind trees alongside the 10th fairway.
But, undeterred, Matsuyama eschewed the chance to lay up, pulled out his five-wood and played the shot of the tournament to clinch the $1,791,000 winner’s cheque.
“Yeah, really cool for him,” said a disappointed, but gracious, Tringale whose bogey at the last left dropped him into a tie for second at 10-under par with fellow American Brendan Steele.
“Obviously he didn’t finish well yesterday and so to really slam the door and hit an incredible second shot and hole the putt, it was storybook.”
© Agence France-Presse