Although he was a very well supported 14.013/1 chance before the off, Hideki Matsuyama sounded far from confident on the eve of the ZOZO Championship, and after finishing 67th at the Shriners and 59th at the CJ Cup in his two previous starts, the US Masters champ had every right to sound a little downbeat.
“If my game scored 10 out of 10 at the Masters, now I would say it scores less than 1,” he said. “I will be struggling this week, but I am here in Japan so I am motivated to be in contention.”
Inspired by the home support, Matsuyama was in-the-mix from the get-go and after an opening six-under-par 66 on Thursday, that saw him sitting tied for second, he hit the front at halfway before leading by a stroke with a round to go.
Although he eventually won the title by five strokes, he didn’t have it all his own way and Cameron Tringale was matched at a low of 1.910/11 when he led by a stroke after ten holes of round four. Matsuyama responded immediately though and when Tringale bogeyed the last two holes and Matsuyama eagled the 18th, the margin of victory was widened significantly.
This was Matsuyama’s first victory in his homeland on the PGA Tour but it was his ninth overall and he now has a very impressive 18.75% stroke rate in Japan, so he’s clearly motivated by the support.
“On the driving range, my balls were all over and not consistent,” he said on Sunday, “but once at the golf course, I was able to feed off of the energy of the crowd.”
Over on the European Tour, there was an almighty scare for the 54-hole leader, Jeff Winther, before he even arrived at the course. Jeff and his wife managed to lock themselves in the bathroom and he must have been starting to panic.
“Our little girl Nora, six years old, had to go and find guys at reception to break down the door. We were in there for 45 minutes, I think. I thought, ‘jeez not today, not Sunday, you’re leading the freaking event. Might not get there for your tee time’. What a morning.”
The incident may just have calmed him before the off and he must have started to think it was going to be his day after this remarkable up-and-down at the par three third.
A world class par save from the leader #MallorcaGolfOpen pic.twitter.com/R57JZZBRMv
? The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) October 24, 2021
In search of his first win on the European Tour, the 33-year-old Dane, who was generally a 120.0119/1 chance, having been matched at a high of 150.0149/1, parred the first nine holes in-a-row but with most of his rivals struggling in the wind, he was still tied for the lead with Sweden’s Sebastian Soderburg, who’d played his front nine in three-under-par.
Prior to the final round, it looked like we might get a dramatic finale but Soderburg, a pre-event 75.074/1 shot, was the only other player to trade at odds-on.
Although he never really looked like winning, Jorge Campillo hit a low of 3.711/4 and fellow Spaniard, Pep Angles, was matched at a low of 6.05/1 but the tournament was basically a two-man race for much of Sunday.
Soderberg, who’d messed up on the 17th hole on Sunday at Valderrama last week with the title within his grasp, hit a low of 1.654/6 before boarding the bogey bus on the back-nine.
The 31-year-old bogeyed 13 and 15 before making a ridiculously long par saving putt on 16 after finding water off the tee, and Winther was given a fairly easy passage to the winning line.
Soderburg eventually finished alongside Angles and Campillo in a tie for second and the trio were beaten by a solitary stroke but Winther never looked like getting beat over the last couple of holes. The margin of victory was only so slim because the Dane missed a tiny putt for par on 18. He needed two putts from around two feet to win and he took them.
Find me a 100 Winner selection, Keita Nakajima, who I’d backed to finish inside the top 20 and top 30, finished tied for 28th but that was the highlight of a poor week.
I try not to let previous bets affect what I do, and I still think Matsuyama wasn’t a great price on Tuesday (when I first looked at the event) given his current form, but my opinion of him was swayed after backing him at the Olympics.
I was aware of his excellent record in his homeland, which is why I backed him in the Olympics, and he was in better form than he was coming into this week, but he was really disappointing over the weekend, so having missed the bigger prices on Monday here, I was happy to leave him out.
Pre-event 55.054/1 pick, Matti Schmid, looked like a real threat in Spain after back-to-back birdies on 10 and 11 in round three but he lost his touch on the greens after that and a double-bogey six on eight in round four put pay to any slim chance he had remaining so all in all it was a disappointing week.
Should I persist with Schmid?
Schmid now poses a similar conundrum that Matsuyama set after the Olympics.
Talked up all week long on Sky’s coverage, the promising German, who I’ve backed several times over the last couple of months at juicy prices, will now be a shorter price going forward but if last week is any sort of gauge, winning may take a while.
Do I take the shorter prices about a very obvious future star in the hope that he quickly learns to control the adrenalin and manage his game better the next time he’s in-the-mix or do I accept that it was good while it lasted and the value’s now gone?
I can vividly remember backing both Patrick Reed and Sam Burns time and time again at monstrous prices because it was clear they were something special, and I can just about remember being on Dustin Johnson at a triple figure price at the Byron Nelson when he repeatedly found water when in with a great chance of getting off the mark but I missed Reed’s first couple of wins and all the value had gone with Burns by the time he got over the line.
I don’t have the answer and I suspect it’s somewhere in-between. Schmid may be fair price some weeks but not others, depending on form, but not all promising players are value.
Italy’s Guido Migliozzi is still fairly priced most weeks but on the other hand, Scotland’s Robert Macintyre, another to be talked up relentlessly on Sky, has gone off at some horrendously short prices, given he’s won just one quirky event in Cyprus, and look at Thomas Detry! He’s often favourite on the European Tour but he’s still winless.
Laurie Canter is starting to be very expensive to follow and yet who would have taken a chance on the 33-year-old maiden Winther last week?
There’s absolutely no doubt that you need a bit of luck to win and Winther may never do it again. He was certainly helped by a red-hot putter and the finish of others and I’m not sure I’d be in a rush to side with him in future.
It’s impossible to know which ones will get to lift a trophy and the likes of Detry and Canter may never manage it but it’s certainly fun trying to spot who will. It’s just knowing when to stop or whether to continue following them that’s hard.
What price Schmid winning at 16/1 within six months?
With the European Tour having a week off, we have just one event to enjoy this week – the Bermuda Championship – and I’ll be back later today or tomorrow with the preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter