AKRON, Ohio — Late last year Hideki Matsuyama looked like a world beater.
He’s got that look again.
Matsuyama broke out of a high-powered shootout Sunday at Firestone Country Club with a course record-tying, 9-under-par 61 to turn a nail-biter into a rout to win the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational by five shots. Matsuyama didn’t have a bogey on his card, chipped in for eagle on the second hole and made seven birdies after that to join Jose Maria Olazabal, Tiger Woods (twice) and Sergio Garcia as the only players to tour the tight South Course in 61 shots.
“You wouldn’t believe it how I warmed up this morning,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “I was not hitting it good on the range. I did hit some good shots but I was nervous all the way around because I really wasn’t sure of my swing today.”
With rounds of 69-67-67-61, Matsuyama finished at 16 under, five shots clear of Zach Johnson, who shared the 54-hole lead with Thomas Pieters and shot 68. Charley Hoffman, who lost in a playoff last week at the RBC Canadian Open, shot 66 to finish six back in third place. Pieters shot 72 and finished eight shots back. Nine shots behind were four players, including Rory McIlroy, who hit 53 drives that exceeded 300 yards during his four rounds.
But no one overpowered the entire course like Matsuyama, who won his fifth PGA Tour title and third this season. Early in the final round four players held at least a share of the lead before Matsuyama took it for good with a birdie on the ninth to close out a front-nine 30. He added a birdie on the 13th and then finished with birdies on the final three holes to burst away.
“Once he gets going, he just keeps the hammer down and keeps it going,” McIlroy said of Matsuyama. “It’s very impressive. He’s played very impressively over the past 18 months, with a lot of wins and a lot of good finishes. Great player, great young player.”