Forget Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama is the undisputed best player in the world right now.
The 24-year-old successfully defended his title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open after four thrilling sudden death playoff holes against American Webb Simpson. It was Matsuyama’s fifth win in his past nine tournament starts.
Having started the final round three shots behind 54-hole leader Byeong-Hun An, Matsuyama surged to 17 under on the back of a bogey-free five under 66.
Simpson, playing three groups ahead of Matsuyama, set the clubhouse mark at 17 under with the low final round of 64 that included an eagle and five birdies – three of which came in his last four holes.
The Japanese star picked up birdies at the two back nine par-5s – the 13th and 15th holes – before parring the last three make the play-off with Simpson. He had a chance to win the tournament outright on the 72nd hole but his birdie putt from 19 feet pulled up half a roll short in the jaws of the cup.
Simpson and Matsuyama went into extra time and it was the former US Open Champion who had the closest chances to win over the first three holes of the play-off with birdie putts narrowly missing at the first and second extra holes.
The fourth play-off hole brought the short, driveable par-4 17th into play and it was Matsuyama in the driver’s seat as Simpson was left with a difficult pitch to the tight pin despite being level with the green with his tee shot. Matsuyama’s drive finished short of the green and his second shot pitch finished 10 feet from the hole. Simpson burned the edge of the cup with his birdie putt from 18 feet, which left the door ajar for Matsuyama and calmly rolled the putt in for the win.
Apart from his five worldwide victories since the end of season Tour Championship last September, Matsuyama has two seconds thrown in to his incredible run of form. In the space of five months, he has managed to win more times on the PGA Tour than any other Japanese player.
“It’s been a good run. I will try and ride it as long as I can,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “It’s tough to compare how I play and the results. The results have been really good these last few months and hopefully we can just keep it going.
“I don’t know if I played that well but I got the job done and that is the bottom line.
“It was a struggle, especially in the playoff. But I’m really happy to win. I just had faith that there would be a chance to win it. Luckily, (the last putt) went in.”
Matsuyama, who also tied for fourth in Phoenix in 2014 and tied for second in 2015, said he draws on the excitement generated by the massive crowds that attend the tournament. This year a record 655,434 walked through the gates at TPC Scottsdale, including a single-day record of 204,906 on Saturday, which is a record attendance for the event.
“There’s nothing like it in golf to play in front of such big galleries and fans this past week. It is great motivation and I just try and have fun with it, and at the same time keep my focus and I was able to do it.”
South African Louis Oosthuizen climbed the leaderboard with a bogey-free six under 65, to finish outright third at 16 under, which is his best result anywhere in the world since last year's WGC-Dell Match Play back in March.
Victoria’s Marc Leishman was right in contention heading into the final day after rounds of 68-69-65 to reach 11 under. But bogies at the 3rd and 4th holes had the 33-year-old on the back foot and he was unable to make any headway on the leaders before finishing tied for 24th.