Words by BGB Editorial
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois: Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama holed a monstrous 67-foot birdie putt on his last hole to jump into the driver’s seat at the BMW Championship, the penultimate event of the FedExCup Playoffs, on Thursday.
The 28-year-old Asian star stormed home with four birdies on his inward nine, draining putts of 11 feet on Hole Nos. 1 and 2, a 21-footer on Hole 7 before his amazing finish on Hole 9 which earned him a 3-under 67 first round and a one-shot lead over Tyler Duncan at Olympia Fields.
FedExCup leader and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson opened with a 1-over 71, ending a streak of 12 straight rounds in the 60s to lie four back of Matsuyama while Tiger Woods, who needs a tied third finish to advance into next week’s TOUR Championship, shot a 73 which included a bogey on his last for a share of 35th place.
While his driving was wayward at times – he hit only six fairways all day – Matsuyama’s short stick worked like magic as he overcame three bogeys against two birdies for an outward 36 on a day of tough scoring. Only three players broke par, the fewest in an opening round on TOUR since the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock (4).
“I’m not sure really what I had going today, but that last putt, that long putt that went in, very happy with that one, so we’ll remember that one,” said Matsuyama, who has two top-10s in the event including a tie for third place last year.
“I made some mistakes early but I was able to come back and play good golf towards the end, so it was a good day.”Hideki Matsuyama
This is the sixth occasion that Matsuyama has held the lead/co-lead on the PGA TOUR as he searches a sixth career title and his first since the 2017 World Golf Championships-FedEx St.Jude Invitational. The last time Matsuyama held a lead in any round was in the second round of the BMW Championship when it was played at Medinah in 2019.
With four top-10s this season, Matsuyama’s form entering Olympia Fields has been steady, if not spectacular, with top-30 finishes in his last three starts. He said remaining patient was key to his strong start. “I made some mistakes early but I was able to come back and play good golf towards the end, so it was a good day,” said Matsuyama, who is ranked 18th on the FedExCup.
“Greens were firm and playing really tough. There are some water holes that you’ve got to avoid, but all in all, I played good and was able to stay out of trouble.
“I felt like I started playing some good golf last week, so I just want to continue that and be able to keep playing good for the rest of the week and just play my game. You know, just slowly but surely just understanding where I needed to make some changes and what I wasn’t doing right, and so just the process took a while. Gradually I started to understand and play better, so I’m glad I played well today. Hopefully I can have confidence in myself to know that I will improve and get better and it will continue this week.”
Korea’s Byeong Hun An, lying in 35th place on the FedExCup points list, shot a 73 for tied 35thplace after dropping four bogeys over his last six holes while countryman Sungjae Im, eighth in the ranking, endured a tough day with a 77 which featured only one birdie on his card. An needs to break into the top-30 of the FedExCup points list to qualify for his first TOUR Championship while Im is already assured of a second appearance at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta next week.