Hideki Matsuyama fires stunning 61 to claim huge win at Firestone
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 07/08/17 6:23am
Hideki Matsuyama produced a ball-striking masterclass as he powered to his second World Golf Championship title with an impressive five-shot victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Matsuyama took control of the tournament with a superb front-nine 30 at Firestone Country Club, and he pulled clear of the chasing pack with four birdies over the last six holes, his third in a row at the last capping a flawless 61 for a winning score of 16 under par.
Zach Johnson won the race for second, but Rory McIlroy was unable to sustain an early charge and yielded three birdies over the first six holes as he closed with a disappointing 69 which left him in a tie for fifth - nine shots adrift of the champion.
Matsuyama trailed Johnson and Thomas Pieters by two overnight and got off to an uncertain start as he struggled to find the short grass over the first two holes, but it mattered little when he chipped in for a brilliant eagle at the second and set up a birdie at the next with a wedge to three feet.
The world No 2, who will defend his WGC-HSBC Champions title in October, missed a good chance from 15 feet at the fifth before holing from similar range on the next green, and he got another putt to drop from inside 10 feet at the ninth to further enhance his confidence.
The Japanese ace did well to keep a blemish off his card with a scrambled par at 12 after a rare missed green, one of only two he missed in the round, and he picked up another shot at the 13th before finishing with a flourish.
A precise wedge in close at the long 16th resulted in his fifth birdie of the day, and he added another at the 17th before closing out the 14th professional victory of his career in fitting style as he split the fairway with a 350-yard drive, clipped a wedge to six feet and rolled in the putt.
"That might be the best round I have ever played," Matsuyama told Wayne Riley via an interpreter. "Firestone Country Club is such a difficult golf course and to play as well as I did here, I'm thrilled."
Matsuyama will now start next week's PGA Championship as one of the favourites, and when asked about his chances of landing a maiden major title, he replied: "Of course I would like to win one. But I'll get back to work in the morning and hopefully something good will come."
Johnson failed to emulate Saturday's brilliance on the greens after offsetting an early birdie at the second with a bogey at the third, the two-time major winner settling for a 68 and outright second on 11 under ahead of Charley Hoffman, who birdied four of the first seven holes to get to 10 under par.
But Hoffman lost momentum after the turn and came home in 35 to return a 66, while Pieters endured frustration after an encouraging birdie at the second which proved to be his only gain of the day as he bogeyed eight and nine and parred every hole on the back nine to remain at eight under.
McIlroy looked poised to be in contention down the stretch when he holed three lengthy putts on the second (20 feet), the fourth (35 feet) and the sixth (25 feet) to get within two of the lead at the time.
But the world No 4 missed another good chance at the eighth and then scrapped his way down the ninth, a poor drive leaving him unable to find the putting surface in regulation and leading to a bogey.
McIlroy failed to convert an excellent approach to five feet at the 11th and, as Matsuyama was opening up a commanding lead, the Northern Irishman took himself out of the hunt with bogeys at 14 and 15 before a closing birdie lifted him back to seven under.
He shared fifth with Paul Casey, who birdied four of the first six holes but bogeyed two of the next three as he closed with a 67, while Russell Knox cost himself a significant amount of cash when he dropped shots at three of the last four holes to also finish on seven under along with Adam Hadwin (69).
Rickie Fowler roared into the top-10 as he fired a 66 which will give him plenty of positives ahead of next week's PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, the course where he clinched his first PGA Tour title after a play-off against McIlroy in 2012.
Open champion Jordan Spieth carded a four-birdie 68 to join Adam Scott on four under, while world No 1 Dustin Johnson was a further shot back along with Henrik Stenson, Royal Birkdale runner-up Matt Kuchar and US Open champion Brooks Koepka.