Sport

Rory McIlroy fades but is positive for US PGA

Rory McIlroy fades but is positive for US PGA”

Johnson failed to emulate Saturday's brilliance on the greens after offsetting an early birdie at the second with a bogey at the third, the two-time major victor settling for a 68 and outright second on 11 under ahead of Charley Hoffman, who birdied four of the first seven holes to get to 10 under par.

Matsuyama stays at No. 3 in the world by a fraction behind Spieth, though he takes plenty of momentum into the PGA Championship next week as he tries to become the first player from Japan to win a major.

And while he has played well in the majors, including a runner-up finish to Brooks Koepka in the U.S. Open, he has yet to seriously contend.

Matsuyama's final birdie broke by one shot the lowest final round by a victor at Firestone. Johnson shot a Sunday 68 for 269, while Charley Hoffman was another stroke back after a 66.

"We're working well out there today and I'm excited to be with him again next week", McIlroy said.

Despite his growing success, he does not yet have a trophy room. "I see what he's trying to do".

Matsuyama started the day two shots off the lead, a deficit he quickly erased with a chip-in eagle on the second hole.

It was the lowest final round in four decades at Firestone Country Club and led to a five-shot victory over Zach Johnson. His drive at 18, his most pleasing shot of the day, split the fairway and traveled 355 yards. It was a remarkable effort, especially considering how poorly he struck the ball on the practice range before teeing off with Australia's Scott Hend in the penultimate group. Incredibly, something just clicked after a poor opening drive.

"I just couldn't believe it that anyone could shoot a 61 on this golf course", Matsuyama said.

"I hit it really well and had a lot of confidence. [But] when you're making birdies, you get relaxed real quick".

"Once he gets going, he just keeps the hammer down and keeps it going".

McIlroy, who missed the cut at the United States Open and finished tied for fourth at the British Open, added: "If I'm the favorite, I'm happy with that. I expect him to be right up there next week as well".

After he added seven birdies, including three straight to finish, he joined Tiger Woods (twice), Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal with the South Course record at Firestone.

"I played with Tiger four years ago when he shot 61, so I knew 61 was the number today", said Matsuyama.

The 25-year-old will head to Quail Hollow in North Carolina for the final major of the year, the PGA Championship starting on Thursday, as one of the favourites after top-15 finishes in the previous three majors this year.

And the timing couldn't be better with the PGA Championship four days away, with a Japanese nation clamoring for its first major champion. Japan, with its strong golfing tradition and passion for the game, still waits for its first. Before every major, the other top players have grown accustomed to being asked by Japanese reporters to assess Matsuyama's chances at victory.

Given his current form, they might not have to ask much longer.

True to his nature, though, Matsuyama said he downplayed expectations entering the week. But he carries the banner of his homeland proudly.

"All I can do is my best", Matsuyama said. "I mean, he's won one WGC in China, he's probably going to win another one here. Hopefully someday it will happen".



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