A former green jacket winner whose Masters status is up in the air showed up to Augusta National Sunday afternoon.
We, of course, are referring to defending champion Hideki Matsuyama.
Tiger Woods, as he is wont to do, has sucked the golf world into his vortex as the 15-time major winner toys with a return to competitive play at a tournament he’s won five times before. Lost in this noise has been the status of Matsuyama, who became the first Japanese male to win a major championship with his triumph at this course last April but has been battling health problems of his own.
Matsuyama’s build-up to his title defence has been far from ideal. Matsuyama, 30, withdrew midway through his second round at the Valero Texas Open on Friday citing a neck injury. This was on top of back issues that Matsuyama has battled this year, back issues that lead to a WD at the Players Championship in March and caused him to skip the WGC-Match Play. The back ailment specifically has hindered Matsuyama from practicing to his standards.
“I’ve been receiving a lot of treatment, getting prepared,” Matsuyama said on Masters conference call in March. “Yesterday was the first day that I’ve been able to have a good practice session. So the remainder of this week and next week, I’ll do my best to prepare well so I can defend my title at Augusta. … I haven’t been able to practice as much as I’d like, but what I have been doing, I feel like I’m on the right track. Hopefully I can find that same form that I started the year out with.”
However, as the limited patrons exited Augusta National Sunday afternoon following the conclusion of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, Matsuyama was one of a dozen or so players spotted on the practice facility. Matsuyama spent a brief time on the practice green joking with his fellow players before moving to the driving range to hit full swing shots.
Prior to the health setback Matsuyama was enjoying a strong start to the campaign with a fall win at the Zozo Championship and a victory in January at the Sony Open. He entered the Valero Texas Open fourth in the FedEx Cup standings. Matsuyama is scheduled to speak to the media on Tuesday morning and host the Champions Dinner Tuesday night.