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Nicklaus on Matsuyama: 'This young man's going to win a lot of golf tournaments'

By Dave Shedloski

DUBLIN, Ohio -- It was Bubba Watson's tournament to win, Kevin Na's to steal, Adam Scott's to commandeer, but in the end, the Memorial Tournament turned out to be Hideki Matsuyama's to savor.

Just 14 months after turning pro, Matsuyama has five victories, but none as big as the one at Jack Nicklaus' place. Matsuyama, 22, defeated Kevin Na with a par on the first playoff hole to become the fourth Japanese-born player to win a PGA Tour event and the first in six years.

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"To win my first PGA Tour event is enough, but to win it here at Mr. Nicklaus' course, it really gives me a lot of confidence," said Matsuyama, who only a week ago finished 10th at Colonial after holding a share of the 54-hole lead.

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Confidence hasn't been in short supply for Matsuyama since he finished T-10 in his U.S. Open debut last year at Merion, a performance that lifted him into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He followed that with a T-6 at the British Open at Muirfield. Later in the year he was T-19 in the PGA Championship and earned a spot on the International Team in the Presidents Cup.

So anyone surprised by this showing hasn't been paying attention.

Matsuyama carded a final-round 69 to finish at 13-under 275. His clutch 5-foot birdie on the 72nd hole -- the fourth time in as many days he had birdied the 18th, a first in the history of the Memorial -- caught Na, who had fired an eight-under 64 and then sat around for two hours waiting to see if it would hold up.

It did and it didn't.

"He deserved to win it," Na said after the disappointing playoff at 18, where he drove into stream left of the fairway and was already lying 4 when Matsuyama rolled in a 10-foot par putt to end it.

Before those proceedings, there was disappointment for Bubba Watson, the reigning Masters champion and third-round leader. Though he was in a dogfight with Matsuyama and Scott, Watson stood to close out his third win of the year if he could play the par-5 15th as well as he had the first three days when he made two eagles and a birdie. Instead, his pink driver betrayed him, sending his ball screaming out of bounds. The resulting double bogey relegated him to third place, though it was enough to nose past Tiger Woods into third in the World Ranking behind Scott and Henrik Stenson.

"I made one bad decision," Watson said. "If I hit the 4-wood off the tee instead of the driver, we make 5 and win by one. . . . No the swing was good. Everything was good. I was excited about the game of golf."

So was Scott, coming off his playoff win last week at Colonial. After a birdie at the par-5 11th to get to five under for the day and a share of the lead, the Aussie rinsed his tee shot at the par-5 12th for a double bogey. Then at the 15th he hit the pin with his wedge approach and suffered a rally-killing bogey.

He made no excuses. "The fact is I didn't hit enough good shots on the back nine today," said the No. 1 player in the world, who probably knows a good shot when he hits one.

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That left it up to Matsuyama, who turned pro last April and won the Japan money title as a rookie. When he had to have a birdie at 18 to tie Na, he came through with a 7-iron from 165 yards to five feet. Twenty-two years old. Kid's got a future, no?

"I think we have a great winner. This young man's going to win a lot of golf tournaments," Nicklaus said. "I know that the Presidents Cup was here last year that he played in was a big help to him this week, and he got to learn the golf course, got to learn a lot about it. But 22 years old . . . that's how old I was when I won my first tournament."

Not a bad omen. Not a bad endorsement. A very good start.

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July 28, 2014

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