Tokyo Olympics: Matsuyama and Schauffele braced for repeat of Augusta battle

By Sports Desk July 31, 2021

Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele battled it out for Masters glory and now they will go head to head in a scramble for Olympic gold on Sunday.

Japanese superstar Matsuyama trails American Schauffele by one shot going into the final round at Kasumigaseki Country Club, and they will join Paul Casey in the final group out.

A home triumph for Matsuyama at the Tokyo Games would be an extremely popular result in Japan, but the top 10 are separated by only four strokes, so medals remain firmly in the sights of a host of players.


AS AUGUST ARRIVES, AN AUGUSTA REPEAT

Almost four months have gone by since Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win a major, when he edged home at Augusta National on a tense final day.

He partnered Schauffele for the final two rounds at the Georgia course, and the same thing has played out this week, with the August 1 finale to the golf event sure to make for absorbing sporting theatre.

The big-name front-runners also had Mexican Carlos Ortiz for company on Saturday, but it was Schauffele who stayed at the head of the pack after following Friday's 63 with a hard-fought 68 to reach 14 under, with Matsuyama on 13 under after a 67, having completed a second-round of 64 earlier in the day.

Schauffele "hung tough", the American said, relying on solid putting to dig him out of trouble as he struggled with his long game.

It was Matsuyama who led going into the final round at The Masters in April, when he held a four-shot cushion but ended up winning by only one after a 73. Schauffele's hopes disappeared when he found water and made six at the par-three 16th that day.

Despite the gold medal being a tantalising target, Schauffele said Saturday had been a routine day on the course.

"Tomorrow may feel a little different," he said. "There's a little bit more on the line than what we normally play for and you're trying to represent your country to the best of your ability."

He was impressed by Matsuyama, who is playing his first event since testing positive for COVID-19, which forced him to miss the Open Championship.

"He seems to be fine," Schauffele said. "Teeing up, he seems strong, he seems normal and he seems himself. Luckily he wasn't hit too hard by it.

"He was firing on a lot of cylinders when he won the Masters. He's maybe not in his realm of perfection, hitting it as well as he'd want to, but he's one back.

"Hideki's a great player, our current Masters champion. I plan on wearing that [green] jacket some day as well. I assume we'll be playing in more final groups for years to come."


JAPAN EXPECTS, CAN HIDEKI DELIVER?

After the blow of Naomi Osaka losing early in the women's tennis, her fellow global superstar is coming good on the golf course.

Matsuyama has been surprised by his recovery from COVID and would love a medal from Tokyo's Games, expressing obvious pleasure at being in the mix so soon after being ill.

"I definitely could not have believed that," he said. "The endurance part of my game has been struggling a little bit, but thankfully it's held up in the last few days. Hopefully it will hold up tomorrow as well."

The host nation awaits a home golfing champion, and Matsuyama is up for the challenge of taking on Schauffele and the chasing pack.

He was asked how the Olympic experience compares to the pursuit of a major.

"There's not much difference to it, but in the Olympics the fact is that third place is still celebrated, as well as second, so there's a nice thing waiting for you even if you get third place," Matsuyama said.

"At a major championship, only the winner will be celebrated. I'm not sure tomorrow what my motivation will be, but I'm going to focus on playing good golf.

"I played with Xander in the third and fourth day together at The Masters. I'm sure Xander will come out determined to win the gold medal, so hopefully on my end too I'm going to come out strong on the mental side."


HOW LOW CAN THEY GO?

If Schauffele and Matsuyama are both to be overtaken on Sunday, it may take a score in the low 60s to snatch away gold.

Tommy Fleetwood showed that is possible with a 64 in the third round, as the Great Britain player climbed to a share of ninth on 10 under, alongside Ireland's Shane Lowry.

His team-mate Casey sits alongside Ortiz on 12 under, tied for third, with four players sharing fifth spot: Ireland's Rory McIlroy, Colombian Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira of Chile and Austrian Sepp Straka.

McIlroy said:"I've got a great chance going into tomorrow. It's a bit of a packed leaderboard so all to play for.

"It's going to be brilliant. A lot of us are trying to do something that none of us have ever done before.

"There's a lot of us that are going to be going through experiences that we've not experienced."

Related items

  • Cantlay slides at American Express as Hodges and Barjon claim joint lead Cantlay slides at American Express as Hodges and Barjon claim joint lead

    First day joint leader Lee Hodges returned to the summit alongside Paul Barjon after carding an eight-under 64 while world number four Patrick Cantlay slipped down the leaderboard on the third day at the American Express.

    Event debutant Hodges responded after his second day 72 with a fine round that included six birdies on the front nine on the stadium course at La Quinta in California on Saturday.

    Hodges is 18-under overall, sharing the lead with France's Barjon who carded a seven-under 65 on the stadium course to also soar up the leaderboard.

    Cantlay, who had shared the lead with Hodges after the first day and was the outright leader after the second, carded four bogeys in his even-round 72 which saw him slide to 14-under overall.

    Tom Hoge remains poised one shot off the leaders at 17-under overall, with five birdies and one bogey in his round of 68.

    Ireland's Seamus Power is one stroke behind Hoge, with Harry Higgs, Hudson Swafford, Lanto Griffin, Cameron Young, Harold Varner III and Francesco Molinari all next best 15 under.

    World number one Jon Rahm is not far behind, having carded a five-under 67 to be 13-under overall, while veteran Phil Mickelson missed the cut.

  • Jamieson takes one-shot lead into final day in Abu Dhabi Jamieson takes one-shot lead into final day in Abu Dhabi

    Scott Jamieson will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after just about keeping the chasing pack at bay on Saturday.

    The Scot was at one stage leapfrogged by Shane Lowry and Thomas Pieters as they produced blemish-free rounds of 67 to move to 10 under par.

    Jamieson dropped a shot at the 14th but responded with birdies on the next and final holes to finish on 68, putting him at 11 under after three rounds.

    Viktor Hovland is three strokes behind, as is Shubhankar Sharma, who followed a double bogey at the sixth with an eagle at the par-five seventh hole as he carded a 67 for the day.

    Ian Poulter, James Morrison and Rafa Cabrera-Bello are at seven under, a stroke ahead of Andrea Pavan and Adam Scott, while there is a six-way tie on five under. Rory McIlroy, who just made the cut on Friday, produced his best round of the tournament – a 67 – to move to two under par.

    After holding onto his lead under pressure from Friday's windy conditions and the pressure of his rivals in round three, Jamieson is determined to keep his focus as he targets a first European Tour title since winning the Nelson Mandela Championship in a play-off against Eduardo de la Riva and Steve Webster in December 2012.

    "It would be massive, a game-changer to win a tournament of this stature," he said. "There's definitely been some great champions here and there's an awful long way to go.

    "All I can do is play whatever shot is in front of me – all those cliches, stay in the moment and just try and hit the best shot I can."

  • Cantlay leads as Zalatoris fires his way into contention at American Express Cantlay leads as Zalatoris fires his way into contention at American Express

    Patrick Cantlay secured a one-shot lead on 14-under par ahead of Tom Hoge on the second day of the American Express in California on Friday.

    The world number four followed up his impressive round of 62 on the opening day with a four-under 68 to hold the outright lead at the end of day two, with Hoge following up a first day 65 with another respectable round of 66 to sit on 13-under.

    The best round of the day came from Will Zalatoris, who shot an 11-under 61 to move up 93 places to joint-third after having hit just 10 greens in his opening round 71.

    The 25-year-old American managed 12 birdies, including each of his last seven holes to climb up the leaderboard, and now sits level on 12-under with fellow countrymen Lanto Griffin, Greyson Sigg, Cameron Young and Joseph Bramlett.

    His drive on the final hole actually ended in the rough on the adjacent first hole, but he was still able to make birdie.

    “I think today I just gave myself chances," Zalatoris said after his round. "I hit a lot close and made a couple 20, 30 footers to keep the round going and obviously... making birdie on nine from the wrong fairway is kind of the icing on the cake."

    Sam Ryder, Roger Sloan, Zach Johnson and Paul Barjon ended their second rounds tied for eighth on 11-under. 

    Meanwhile, Lee Hodges, who held the lead with Cantlay at the start of day two, could only muster an even-round of 72 and now finds himself tied for twelfth with 11 other competitors.

    Among them is Sahith Theegala, who shot an eagle and eight birdies as part of a round of 62 to climb 98 places to inexplicably sit alongside the previous day's overnight joint-leader.

    World number one Jon Rahm was unable to build on his steady first round of 66 as he hit five birdies and three bogeys during his 70 to sit tied for 32nd on eight-under.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.