The victory gave Matsuyama bookend World Golf Championships titles. He won by seven strokes in Shanghai in October, beating Henrik Stenson, who only a few months earlier had won the British Open. That finish came during a stretch in which Matsuyama was perhaps the hottest player on the planet. Between mid-October and early February, he won five tournaments worldwide, including an unofficial event hosted by Woods. He also had two runner-up finishes.
In February, Matsuyama moved within reach of the No. 1 ranking, then held by Jason Day, but succumbed to the pressure and missed the cut at the Genesis Open. Dustin Johnson won the tournament to rise to No. 1, where he remains.
No Japanese golfer has won a men’s major. Matsuyama has come close: He finished tied for second at this year’s United States Open, tied for fourth at last year’s P.G.A. Championship and tied for seventh at the 2016 Masters. A sizable contingent of the Japanese news media shadows Matsuyama during each competitive round he plays in the United States. Before every major, the other top players have grown accustomed to being asked by Japanese reporters to assess Matsuyama’s chances at victory.
Jordan Spieth, who closed with a 68 to finish tied for 13th here, can complete a career Grand Slam with a victory at this week’s P.G.A. Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina. So, which question does he expect to field first, one about his chances to win his fourth major or one about Matsuyama’s chances to win his first?
Spieth, the world No. 2, said it would probably be about his prospects. Smiling, he added, “I normally don’t get asked about Hideki until the third or fourth question.”
Although he won the British Open last month, Spieth said that after watching the way Rory McIlroy was striking the ball here, he considers McIlroy — a two-time P.G.A. Championship winner and twice a champion of the tour event at Quail Hollow — the favorite going into the final men’s major of the year.
McIlroy, who pulled to within one stroke of the lead early in Sunday’s round before settling for a final-round 69 and a tie for ninth, nine strokes back, chuckled when told about Spieth’s handicapping. “Trying to take some pressure off himself,” McIlroy, the world No. 4, said. “I see what he’s trying to do.”
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. Means…