Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama put himself in prime position to equal K.J. Choi’s record of eight PGA TOUR victories after a flying 7-under 63 on Saturday propelled him into solo second behind American leader, Russell Henley at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
China’s Haotong Li, playing on a sponsor’s exemption this week, also remained in contention in the US$7.5 million PGA TOUR tournament despite running up a costly double bogey six en route to a 68 to share third position, four off the pace.
Henley, chasing a fourth TOUR win and second title at the Sony Open, carded a 67 for a two-shot lead and an 18-under 192 total, which was a career low 54-hole score. Japanese world amateur No. 1 Keita Nakajima dropped off the leaderboard after a disappointing 72.
Matsuyama, who sank seven birdies against no bogeys, has a chance to join Choi as the winningest Asian golfer on the PGA TOUR should he reel in Henley on Sunday. Last season, the 29-year-old Japanese won the Masters Tournament for his first major victory and then claimed a popular triumph at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP on home soil in October.
Much of his success in the third round was due to a solid putter where after picking up four birdies from inside of 10 feet, Matsuyama rolled in putts of 37 feet and two from about 13 feet on the 13th, 15th and 18th holes respectively to charge up the leaderboard.
“Probably putting was strong point today. Even my missed putts found the hole. I was lucky,” said Matsuyama, who ranks second in Strokes Gained: Putting through three rounds.
His 12th consecutive round in the 60s which is the best active streak this season, meant he also set a career best 54-hole score of 194. Matsuyama said the strong support he is receiving in Hawaii has been fun. “Whenever there is a big crowd like this, it just gives you some extra motivation, and I just kind of rode with all their cheers and hopefully tomorrow will be another good day,” he said.
The 26-year-old Li continued to lurk near the lead despite his mishap on 16 where he compounded mistake after mistake after initially pulling his tee shot into trouble. But five birdies and one bogey softened the blow somewhat as he seeks to become the first mainland Chinese winner on the PGA TOUR.
“Well, another great day. Any day you shoot under par is a good score. I found my putting not hot as normal and had a couple bad tee shots, especially on 16. Finished there on left side rough and supposed to play a little bit smart. It cost me two shots. Apart from that, felt quite solid,” said Li, who was once ranked in the top-50 in the world but entered the week in 460th position.
“Hopefully hit more fairways (on Sunday) and hit a little bit straight, and, yeah, I think that’s it. I think if I do that, will be good score.”