Straight after becoming the first Japanese winner of a WGC event – the HSBC-WGC Champions – the 24-year-old Hideki Matsuyama was being asked about majors. “I think I’ve got closer to being able to compete,” he warned. “I’m going to start preparing well for them.”
Matsuyama won by a cool seven shots from Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger, with Rory McIlroy and Bill Haas one shot further back. His rounds of 66, 65, 68 and 66 took in as many as 29 birdies – and he had been trying desperately to bring that tally up to 30 when he knocked his second into the water at the 18th.
Needless to say, that 30th birdie did not materialise, but he was still well pleased with himself for getting up and down – his putt was an 18-footer – for a closing par.
In amateur days Matsuyama, who won two Asian Amateur titles, was known as the boy with a strong heart. A strong heart was what he demonstrated today. Three ahead overnight, he felt nervous standing on the first tee before calming himself down with an opening birdie, courtesy of a beautifully rhythmic eight iron. The eighth was a bit of a problem as he played his way down the rough rather than the fairway but, as at the 18th, he walked off with a par. He saw that early hole as a key point in his round: had he failed to make his par and Berger made his 25-footer for a birdie, his lead could have been cat to two. “After that,” said the winner, “everything became much easier.”
He did one media interview after another and posed for all the Japanese photographers who had arrived to see if their man could win so big an event. And at the end of it all, he wanted nothing so much as to ring his parents who, he said, had made everything possible and who had never wanted anything more for him in life than to be happy in his career of choice. “I owe it all to them,” he said, feelingly.
Stenson, who for much of the afternoon was concentrating on trying to finish ahead of Rory McIlroy, who is likely to be his greatest rival when it comes to the season-ending Dubai DP World championship, was full of praise for Matsuyama.
“He’s not the most aggressive golfer but he’s a good, solid striker and he’s on a great roll. He showed everyone how he could keep his foot on the pedal. It was an impressive runaway win.”
Berger, while thrilled with his own performance, was no less in awe of his Eastern rival. “Hideki played just unbelievable and it was a pleasure to watch. You can learn a lot from watching him at work.”
The same, you would have to think, would have applied to the countless Chinese children who have been following play over the week at Sheshan. Matsuyama, when asked about the advance of golf in China, prophesied that the Chinese players at Sheshan would be competing in the big events before too long.
If such a thing should happen, no-one would be more delighted than Giles Morgan, HSBC’s Global Head of Sponsorship and Events and the man who first recommended that his company play the HSBC Champions in China.
“I’d love it if Li Haotong or one of his compatriots were to have his name etched on this trophy at some point,” said Morgan. “I’d feel a huge sense of pride.”