No one, not even Jordan Spieth, was playing better golf coming into the PGA Championship than Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. And the result was that he lit up Quail Hollow Friday with a 7-under 64, the low round of the championship by two shots.
His head-shaking performance vaulted him into a tie for the lead after 36 holes with Kevin Kisner at 8-under-par 134.
But Matsuyama didn’t hold onto his low round for very long. Francesco Molinari of Italy, who ended his day on the front nine, also shot 64 to post 5-under 137, three shots out of the lead.
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After Kisner recorded his second straight 67 in the early afternoon on Friday, there was little thought that someone could catch him in the afternoon wave.
Matsuyama apparently begged to differ. He birdied five of his last seven holes – including four in a row starting at the par-4 12th – to shoot 5-under 31 on the incoming nine.
“The greens here at Quail Hollow, as you know, are really fast,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “And there's a lot of putts that honestly, I'm not trying to make. I'm just trying to get it up near the hole, and a lot of them are going in.”
Perhaps even more importantly, he managed to make par on the difficult 511-yard par-4 16th when his tee shot found a muddy lie just off a cart path near the Green Mile Club. His second shot nearly cleared the greenside bunker and Matsuyama got it up and down for a par that kept his momentum going.
It led to a birdie on the problematic par-3 17th , which Matsuyama said was his best shot of the day, and a fairly routine par at the 18th to finish the round.
The 25-year-old sensation has won three times on the PGA Tour this year, including a victory at last week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational where he shot 61 in the final round.
“I'm probably not playing as well as I did at the end of last year,” Matsuyama said. “However, I'm riding the momentum from the round that I had on Sunday, and again, hopefully I can keep that going for 36 more holes.”
Matsuyama tied for second behind winner Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open and tied for 14th at the Open Championship. He has five Tour victories in his short career in America. He also has seven international titles to his credit.
Should he go on to win, he’d become the first Japanese player to win a major championship.
“I'm not really sure. That's a difficult question, one that's hard to think about, what effect that would have on my life, my family's life. I'm not sure. I try to imagine, but we still have a lot of golf to play,” Matsuyama said.