Jan. 12—It happened just two weeks into the year but remained arguably the best shot hit on the PGA Tour in all of 2022.
It happened just two weeks into the year but remained arguably the best shot hit on the PGA Tour in all of 2022.
Hideki Matsuyama's 3-wood from 276 yards on the first playoff hole of the Sony Open in Hawaii last season won him his eighth career victory on the PGA Tour.
He admitted after he held up the trophy in a celebration in front of the largest gallery in recent memory on the 18th green that he wasn't able to track the ball as it was launched directly into the setting sun.
A year later, Matsuyama returns to Waialae Country Club to defend his title, and said he did go back and watch the shot that completed a five-shot comeback on the back nine.
"You know, that shot, I wasn't able to track that shot, so, you know, by watching that video I kind of know how good that shot was, " Matsuyama said Tuesday. "It was good."
Matsuyama started this calendar year just outside of the top 20 in the World Golf Ranking and headlines the first full-field PGA event of 2023 alongside top-20 ranked golfers Jordan Spieth, Tom Kim, Billy Horschel and Sungjae Im.
Matsuyama had finished in the top-10 only once in nine trips around Waialae until last year's dramatic win with back-to-back rounds of 7-under 63 on the weekend.
"To be honest, it was a little surprising that I was able to win last year, " Matsuyama said. "Waialae is one of the toughest golf courses I feel like. Shooting 63 is something I'm really happy with, so I'm really happy to be back here again."
Last year's Sony was one of two victories for Matsuyama during a run of 13 straight tournaments without missing a cut.
That ended when he was forced to withdraw from the Valero Texas Open with a neck injury.
He came back to finish tied for 14th as the defending champion at the Masters and was fourth at the U.S. Open, but has continued to struggle with neck pain that he admitted hasn't gone away.
"It's been coming back and forth, especially last October, November, " Matsuyama said. "Every time I played golf—the pain was coming back. So I've been working with the doctors, too, and I've been getting some good advice, so I feel like it's getting better and better."
Matsuyama finished tied for 21st at the Sentry TOC last week and is one of 19 players from the field of 39 on Maui to remain in Hawaii and play on Oahu.
The courses couldn't be less alike as the scenery changes from the rolling elevation changes and a physically draining hike around 18 holes at Kapalua to a flat, shorter-yardage scenic stroll at Waialae.
This week's event is more than 500 yards shorter and par is three shots lower, going from 73 to 70.
Despite the differences, eight of the last nine winners of the Sony Open played the week earlier on Maui.
According to the PGA Tour, of the 51 players to tee it up in both Hawaii events over the previous two seasons, 42 of them have made the cut.
That bodes well for players like Spieth, who will make his fifth appearance at Waialae and the first since 2019.
Spieth is coming off a season in which he won once at the RBC Heritage and added two runner-up finishes and six top-10s.
"I have always really liked this golf course, " Spieth said Tuesday. "You've got to think your way around it. I've played well in the past—2017 I think I finished third—so try and draw off maybe memories from that week and try and improve from last week as well."
Spieth is part of a marquee group with Horschel and Zach Johnson teeing off at 8 a.m. today on No. 10.
Matsuyama is in another loaded group with Im and Adam Scott that will tee off at 12 :40 p.m. on No. 1.
Four players with Hawaii ties will tee off today. Punahou alum Parker McLachlin tees off at 7 :20 a.m. on the first tee. Michael Castillo, the head pro at Kapalua, will play with Moanalua alum Brent Grant, who earned his Tour card after finishing in the top 25 on the Korn Ferry Tour.
They will tee off at 1 :30 p.m. on No. 10, followed by Kamehameha and University of Hawaii alum Blaze Akana, who is in the last group going off at 1 :40.