Japan’s Matsuyama ‘can’t believe’ gold in sight after Covid scare
Newsfrom JapanSports Tokyo 2020
Kawagoe, Japan | AFP
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama “can’t believe” that he could be on the brink of winning Tokyo 2020 golfing gold after contracting coronavirus only four weeks ago.
The US Masters champion returned a positive Covid-19 test on July 3 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, forcing him to pull out and then miss the British Open a fortnight ago.
He feared his dream of playing and winning a medal at a home Olympics might be gone and admitted he hadn’t fully recovered his fitness after being tired at the end of his first round of 69 at The Kasumigaseki Country Club on Thursday.
But on Friday he bounced back with a brilliant 64 on the par-71 course, where he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in 2010, and will tee off in the final group on Sunday with Xander Schauffele and Paul Casey after a 67 on Saturday.
“I definitely could not have believed I would be playing the final group with a chance to win after having Covid,” Matsuyama told reporters after finishing his third round a shot behind leader Schauffele.
“To be honest, the endurance part of my game has been struggling a little bit. Thankfully it’s held up the last few days, so hopefully it’s going to hold up tomorrow as well.”
Schauffele said you wouldn’t have known Matsuyama had suffered from coronavirus after playing alongside him on Saturday.
“He seems to be fine,” said Schauffele, who leads on 14-under-par 199 after a third-round 68.
“I forgot that he had Covid, but teeing it up out here he seemed strong, seems normal and seems himself. So luckily he wasn’t hit too hard by it.”
Schauffele was in the final group with Matsuyama when he won at Augusta National in April and said Japan’s number one was playing better then, but would still be a big threat when the two battle for Olympic glory.
“He obviously was firing on a lot of cylinders when he won the Masters,” said Schauffele.
“I think he’s maybe not as in his realm of perfection, maybe he’s not hitting it as good as he would like to, but he’s only one (shot) back.”
Asia’s first US Masters champion is revered in Japan and -- under huge pressure to deliver gold -- would normally be followed by huge galleries.
But even with no spectators at these Olympics, Matsuyama still had every birdie putt roared on by hundreds of Japanese volunteers and support staff.
“It does not feel like we don’t have fans out here,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse