Matsuyama matches US Open champ for Challenge lead

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NASSAU, Bahamas: Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, making the most of a hot putter, shot a five-under par 67 Friday (Saturday in Manila) to match US Open champion Dustin Johnson for the lead at the Hero World Challenge.

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Sixth-ranked Matsuyama, coming off three Asian triumphs in the past six weeks, moved level with the third-ranked American on 12-under 132 through 36 holes at the 18-man invitational event at the Albany resort.

“I’m very happy with my round,” Matsuyama said. “I got it around and I played well. Hopefully I can just keep playing my own game and play the best that I can.”

South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion and a three-time major runner-up, shared third with Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar of the United States on 134 after each fired a second 67.

Matsuyama, who won the PGA Phoenix Open back in February, captured the Japan Open in October by three strokes, rolled to a seven-shot victory two weeks later at the World Golf Championships HSBC Champions event in Shanghai and added a seven-stroke triumph at the Taiheiyo Masters three weeks ago in Japan.

“My putting has been a lot better and that’s what’s probably the reason why I’ve played well,” Matsuyama said. “When I’ve missed some shots the past month or so, I’ve been able to make the putt.”

Johnson, last season’s US PGA Player of the Year, has won twice since capturing his first major title last June at Oakmont, taking the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in July and the BMW Championship last September.

“What I’m working on is the right thing, just keep trying to get better, improve the wedge game, improve the short game,” said Johnson.

“I struggled a little bit with the driver on the back nine but made some nice up and downs. I’ve been rolling the putter pretty well too.”

Johnson birdied three of the first four holes, eagled the par-5 11th and answered his lone bogey at 12 with birdies at 14 and 18 for his second consecutive 66.

“Playing solid, playing pretty consistent,” Johnson said. “Tomorrow need to just drive it a little bit better.”

Matsuyama birdied the par-5 third, sixth and 11th holes then ran off three birdies in a row ending at the par-5 15th. But a bogey at the par-3 17th combined with Johnson’s closing birdie left them deadlocked atop the leaderboard.

Lurking six strokes off the pace after a bogey-free 65 Friday was 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, making his comeback this week after a 16-month back injury layoff.

While Woods has lost the aura of invincibility that once accompanied his game, Johnson recalled that he was more intimidated meeting Woods for the first time than he was meeting his father-in-law, Canadian ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

“I would say Tiger because the first time I met him was when I played with him in a tournament round,” Johnson said. “That was definitely more intimidating. Wayne is too nice.”

AFP

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