PONTE VEDRA BEACH (USA) : Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama believes he has "found something" to turn his golf fortunes around as he chases for a win at this week's The Players Championship, the PGA TOUR's flagship tournament.
The 31-year-old enters the US$25 million showpiece at TPC Sawgrass in need of some good form following two successive missed cuts and only one top-10 to show for this season.
After an abbreviated week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Matsuyama hit the practice range immediately last weekend in search of a quick fix, especially with an errant driver as he ranks a lowly 130th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee.
"I practiced right away," said Matsuyama, who presently sits in 90th place on the FedExCup points list. "I feel like I've found something to focus on, but I'm still figuring out how exactly to make that happen."
A return to the daunting Stadium Course at Tat Sawgrass offers a shot in confidence as Matsuyama has a strong record at the Pete Dye-designed masterpiece. He finished T7 and T8 in 2016 and 2019 respectively, and has three other top-25s.
In 2020, he opened with a course-record equalling 9-under 63 but the tournament was subsequently cancelled due to the onset of COVID-19. Last year, he was forced to withdraw before the event began due to a neck injury which has since lingered over the past year.
"This is the PGA TOUR's flagship event and the biggest tournament outside the majors. I am excited to play," he was quoted as saying in a story on the PGA Tour's website.
"One strength is not enough here and you need to be good at everything to win on this golf course, so I will do my best to win. If you're struggling to keep it straight off the tee, it will be tough. It's also playing very quick on and around the greens. If you can avoid the rough, I think it should be a pretty fun test."
An eight-time winner, Matsuyama is currently tied with 2011 Players' champion, K.J. Choi of Korea as the Asian golfer with the most victories on the PGA Tour. Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters Tournament winner, is naturally eager to increase his victory tally, with his last triumph being the Sony Open in Hawaii in early 2022.
"I think we are getting closer to what we were working on over the weekend," said Matsuyama of the work he has put in with his coach Mikihito Kuromiya.
"Whether or not those changes will produce results or I can hit the ball the way I want to hit it, that will take some time. We also talk about the condition of my neck and how to put as little stress on it as possible. With the Masters quickly approaching, I'd like to start producing some better results."
This week's elite field includes 44 of the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and 29 of the top 30 players in the FedExCup standings.