Hideki Matsuyama might never be a great putter -- and that's OK
On the fourth hole of Sunday's playoff, Hideki Matsuyama delivered a pure stroke from 10 feet that had the rising star from Japan starting to celebrate before the ball disappeared into the hole. It was a reminder that Matsuyama is capable of making putts, but also that sometimes he needs a few chances to convert.
Matsuyama had already missed from the same length on TPC Scottsdale's 17th hole in regulation. He'd missed from 15 feet on No. 16, and from 19 feet on No. 18 when he had a chance to put the tournament away. There was another close call on 18 from nearly the same spot on the first sudden-death hole, but after two more pars, Matsuyama finally made the birdie that gave him a fourth career PGA Tour title.
Hideki Matsuyama might never be a great putter -- and that's OK. He's already found a way to be a great golfer.
It's well established that the bedrock of his success is his fantastic ball-striking, which is also staggeringly consistent. So far this season, Matsuyama ranks fifth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/tee-to-green. That falls right in line with his first three full seasons on tour in which he ranked fourth, seventh and sixth in that stat.
He's been pretty consistent on the greens, too, just not in a great way. Matsuyama is currently 98th in strokes gained/putting. His career-best finish in that stat came two seasons ago when he ranked 86th.
It should come as no surprise that he's putted better in the tournaments he's won, but he hasn't putted as well as you might think. For the week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Matsuyama was 47th in the field in the stat. When he won at TPC Scottsdale last year he was 29th. And when he won the 2014 Memorial -- his first PGA Tour title -- he ranked 46th. (There are no strokes gained stats for his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions in October.
In those three victories where golf's most reliable putting stat was kept, Matsuyama averaged ranking 41st in the field, and his 47th is the highest of any winner this season. For comparison, the winners of the other eight events this season where the stat was kept averaged a ranking of 17th.
The much more important stats for Matsuyama in his wins have been greens in regulation and proximity to the hole. At TPC Scottsdale he was T-2 in GIR and second in proximity following last year's win where he ranked first and T-6 in those two stats. In his Memorial victory, he was only 22nd in GIR, but was first in proximity. Not surprisingly, Matsuyama also led the field in strokes gained/tee-to-green this past week.
You don't have to putt great to win on the PGA Tour, but if you don't, you have to hit it great. And no one has been doing that more consistently than Matsuyama, who has two wins and two runner-ups in seven starts this season (plus a victory at the Hero World Challenge). It's a replicable formula that has taken Matsuyama to fifth in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Of course, there's always the chance Matsuyama, who is still only 24, also develops into a great putter. That's probably something his fellow tour pros would rather not think about.