In winning the WGC-HSBC Champions title at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai by seven shots from Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan pretty much drained any drama out of the tournament before he got into the back nine. His 23-under-par total was only one shot higher than the tournament record established by Dustin Johnson in 2013. Matsuyama also became the first Asian golfer to win a World Golf Championship event.
He fired a bogey-free final round of 66; indeed, he played the final 45 holes without dropping a shot. “Winning today I feel has got me closer to being able to compete a lot better in the major championships,” said the 24-year-old. “So my next goal is to win a major, and I’m going to do all that I can to prepare well for that.” Y.E. Yang of Korea (South version, of course), who got the better of Tiger Woods at the 2009 USPGA Championship, is the only male Asian golfer to have won a major.
Lying second overnight, three behind Matsuyama, had been Scotland’s Russell Knox, the defending champion and a man manifestly disappointed not to have been given one of Darren Clarke’s wild-card picks for the Ryder Cup last month. “I’m not going to give up my title without a big fight,” he said on Saturday night. “To win I’ll probably have to play close to the round of my life.” Instead he was in for another disappointment. He shot two over par to finish tied for ninth, 11 shots behind the victor.
There was a sub-text to Stenson’s tie for second. The Open champion’s 65 to sign off with meant he overtook the Masters champion, Danny Willett, as leader of the Race to Dubai with just three tournaments remaining. Also gaining ground on Willett was Rory McIlroy, who closed with a 66 to end up a shot shy of Stenson, in a tie for fourth with Bill Haas.
“I was chasing Danny for the Race to Dubai and so was Rory,” said Stenson. “I could see Rory was going at it. I just tried to keep up and it was nice to sneak in that putt on the last to go one ahead. It would be nice to go into the last tournament knowing that if you win in Dubai, you win overall.”
Like Stenson, McIlroy has previously been a winner of the European Tour’s season-long race. And also like Stenson, he has designs on doing so again. “There are still points up for grabs and everything else. That’s what I was playing for today. If I have somewhat of a chance going into Dubai, that’s great. But if not, I think over the course of the season, they [Stenson and Willett] have had big wins and played well. They are major champions, so I’m OK with that.”
Rory, of course, is a major champion four times over, an area in which his career drew a blank in 2016 and in which he’ll be determined to do better in 2017 – even if no more resolutely than Hideki will go about trying to claim his first.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen