Why Japan's Hideki Matsuyama has traits to become PGA's future 'mega-star'

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports
Hideki Matsuyama, right, of Japan, celebrates with his caddie after holing out from the sand on the second hole during the final round of the Memorial golf tournament, Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Dublin, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Matsuyama wins Memorial in a playoff

Hideki Matsuyama, right, of Japan, celebrates with his caddie after holing out from the sand on the second hole during the final round of the Memorial golf tournament, Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Dublin, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

This is getting good now.

We've journeyed from a desultory 2014 PGA Tour season into a second consecutive week of pyrotechnics.

If it wasn't Caroline Wozniacki, Rory McIlroy's recently dumped fiancée, changing her avatar to a witch stirring her brew, it was Rory himself playing as if hexed, going from a Thursday 63 at Jack Nicklaus' Memorial to a cursed Friday 78. And if it wasn't lefty Bubba Watson seizing a 54-hole lead at prestigious Muirfield Village, only to see it slip away on a messy Sunday, it was lefty Phil Mickelson trying to clean up his own mess when it was revealed he was questioned about possible insider trading by the FBI.

So much for that mental preparation for Pinehurst's U.S. Open next week. Philly Mick's got the feds on his tail. That'll clutter a swing thought.

And in the end, we enjoyed a second consecutive week with a big-name winner, which always pleases this column. We dig stars around here, and when 22-year-old Hideki Matsuyama of Japan made a hugely clutch birdie on the 72nd hole for a final-round 69 to force a playoff with Kevin Na at the Memorial, then saved par from a difficult lie to win his first American event, it was Nick Faldo who told us, as CBS signed off, we just witnessed "a future mega-star."

But what am I doing quoting a guy who insists you call him "Sir," when I can quote the Golden Bear himself, our 18-time major winning host.

Hideki Matsuyama celebrates after winning the Memorial. (AP)
Hideki Matsuyama celebrates after winning the Memorial. (AP)

"I think you've just seen the start," said Nicklaus, "of what's going to be truly one of your world's great players over the next 10 or 15 years."

All that, plus Adam Scott, the world's No. 1 player, fresh off a win at Colonial, posting a hat trick of bogeys on the back nine Sunday to blow his chance at a gorilla dunk of a victory. He went from flashing that signature bent-elbow, flexed-bicep celebration after key putts to a guy who, on Sunday night probably rested his chin on the clenched fist, a la "The Thinker," pondering a frittered chance.

It's haymakers galore in the golf world, sports fans.

So let's heap praise on Matsuyama, who was 24th in the world coming in based on his five Japanese Tour wins already. The stocky youngster made a name for himself back in 2011, becoming the first Japanese amateur to play in the Masters. He was only 19, and earned the berth by winning the Asian Amateur Championship at the tender age of 18.

He's shown a knack for the big stage already, which may distinguish him from the other Japanese youngster ticketed for global stardom, Ryo Ishikawa. Ishikawa is just five months older than Matsuyama, but more famous because of his 10 Japanese Tour wins by age 21. Plus, he has funky, spiked hair.

Matsuyama's hair doesn't win any cool contests. It's more along the lines of a Bobby Brady bushy mess. But he shows up when it matters, finishing tie-10th at last year's U.S. Open at Merion, and backed it up with a sixth-place finish at the 2013 Open Championship. Now, he's won Jack's tournament, and winners at Memorial tend not to be one-offs. Matsuyama joins a recent list of Muirfield victors like Matt Kuchar, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Steve Stricker.

And he did it flaunting mental mettle to produce one of the best shots of the golf season, too. After it appeared for all the world that Matsuyama was choking his guts out – he double bogeyed 16 and bogeyed 17 to nearly hand Na the tournament, then snapped his driver head in anger on the 18th tee box – Matsuyama faced a 165-yard uphill approach to that tight left flagstick on 18.

He had the good mojo of having birdied 18 all three days entering Sunday. But he had the bad history of the statistic that said no player had birdied 18 all four days since the Golden Bear began throwing his party in his home state of Ohio.

Matsuyama's answer was cold-blooded: a 7-iron approach that curled to within five feet of the pin for a darn-near kick-in birdie. It was one of 2014's finest moments. Matsuyama won the playoff when Na drove into a creek.

So it's heating up. The U.S. Open looms, and we've got ourselves another name to watch. But don't worry. If all else fails, we can just talk about Rory McIlroy's love life.


72-70-72-73 – 1-under 287, Phil Mickelson, tie-49th, PGA Tour Memorial Tournament, Muirfield Village Golf Course, Dublin, Ohio.

Even though he's a born-and-bred San Diegan, consider Lefty's week at the Memorial as taking a page out of Jersey boy Tony Soprano's playbook: Deal with the feds, buy some time, do your thing.

What a story that broke Friday. Mickelson was approached Thursday by two FBI investigators who told him, along with some Securities and Exchange Commission suits, that they were checking out what they considered suspicious trading by Mickelson and Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters. The transactions in question centered around Clorox, shortly before Clorox's price jumped in 2011 because of billionaire Carl Icahn's interest. Reportedly, this is the second time the feds have sniffed around Lefty on this case.

Phil Mickelson said he has done nothing wrong in relation to the FBI's insider trading probe. (AP)
Phil Mickelson said he has done nothing wrong in relation to the FBI's insider trading probe. (AP)

If you're still following, dig this: The feds hunted down Lefty at the Memorial! They wanted to ask him about insider trading! You can't make this stuff up!

I am an avowed fan of Mickelson, whose entertaining game and winning personality have combined to make him this generation's Arnold Palmer. His three Masters wins were all-time capsule gems, and his final-round 66 at Muirfield last year to seize the Claret Jug remains one of the greatest rounds in the game's history.

But if there was one thing Philly Mick was always guilty of, it was being the smartest guy in the room. His varied interests – handicapping football on national radio, trying out for the Toledo Mudhens, launching a science-and-math initiative with Exxon, inspiring a "What Will Phil Do Next?" ad campaign – make it not unusual that Mickelson would be linked to something like trying to beat the stock market. Shoot, look how he approaches his golf game. The more difficult and crazy the shot, the more likely Phil is to try it.

Now, to be sure, Mickelson has said he's done "absolutely nothing wrong," and that may very well be the case. But if you had to pick one player on the planet who would be questioned after a round for possible insider trading in cahoots with a Las Vegas gambler, you would join me and millions of others in saying: "Yeah … if I had to guess … I'd go with Lefty."

It's the ultimate Mickelson story, no matter the outcome. Now, let's see if he can be the first guy to win a U.S. Open with the feds waiting in an unmarked courtesy car in the Pinehurst parking lot.


"Is that in somebody's backyard?" – Nick Faldo, incredulous, on CBS, assessing Bubba Watson's errant drive on No. 15 Sunday at the Memorial.

Bubba Watson was by no means alone in finding difficulty Sunday at Muirfield Village. The world's No. 1, Adam Scott, had that bogey hat trick. Jordan Spieth, who started in the top-five on Sunday, plummeted to a tie-19th after a final-round 75. Same with Billy Horschel, who dropped 10 spots on Sunday after a final-round 74.

And Watson remains the leader in the clubhouse for PGA Tour Player of the Year. He's already won at Augusta National and Riviera, and the summer is young.

It was just that he took the prize for most spectacular fallout on Sunday's back nine, hooking his drive on No. 15 into a grassy Ohio backyard. We were treated to a CBS shot of the home's residents, enjoying a June weekend, red cups of libations in hand, some barefoot, checking out the wickedly off-target tee shot.

What made it was the dog. The house had a big dog in the backyard, of undetermined canine lineage, on leash, just checking the scene out. The same way federal investigators questioning Mickelson is a bad look at a tournament, is the same way a big dog checking out your tee shot in a backyard is a bad look when you're tied for the lead at the Memorial.

Bubba would make double bogey on the hole, shoot 72 and finish one shot out of the playoff.


Our fascination with Rory McIlroy knows few boundaries. Last week's Dump Caroline/Win the BMW PGA at Wentworth was a week for the ages. Then, it was revealed by some salacious tennis journos at the French Open that McIlroy's "Dear Caroline" phone call to Wozniacki lasted three minutes, which some web pundits found lacking in style points.

Rory McIlroy fell off the pace after a first-round 63. (AP)
Rory McIlroy fell off the pace after a first-round 63. (AP)

Whether or not this is true is highly dubious, and surely there are layers to the story which none of us are privy to. But that doesn't stop web pundits from proffering opinions, which surely made McIlroy look less than chivalrous.

But playing well is the best revenge. McIlroy went out and shot a sizzling 63 on Thursday, and it looked like he was set to go wire-to-wire, then tell David Feherty on the 18th green Sunday: "I got 99 problems, but a Polish tennis player ain't one."

Instead! The same day Wozniacki changed her Twitter avatar to a witch stirring a pot, McIlroy developed a knee problem, made three double bogeys in his front nine on Friday, shot 43 on his front nine en route to a 78 and was never a factor after that. He wound up tie-15th, with a dubious knee and with nagging thoughts that he's been hexed.

The game is better when McIlroy is good, so let's go back out to Rory's first tee on Friday, remind him that sometimes a Twitter avatar is just a Twitter avatar, remind him that he's Rory Stinkin' McIlroy, BMW PGA champ, owner of the first-round lead, take a deep breath and … give that man a mulligan!


One more before our national championship, and it's the FedEx St. Jude in Memphis. Phil Mickelson is playing. Unfortunate the word "Fed" is in the tournament title, making it likely that a rattled Lefty will continue a 2014 devoid of top-10 finishes.

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