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Setting the Bar

Sent on Tuesday, July 29, 2014

He had to go overtime, but you can't say that it took a long time for Hideki Matsuyama to win his first title on the PGA TOUR when he won the 39th Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance on June 1.

With a par on the first hole of a sudden death playoff, Matsuyama defeated Kevin Na to become the first Japanese-born player to capture a TOUR title since Ryuji Imada in 2008.

It was only a year ago that Matsuyama turned pro, but he's made quick work of learning the ropes.

At just 22 years of age Matsuyama unseated Tiger Woods to become the youngest winner in Memorial Tournament history. Woods won the first of his record five Memorial titles in 1999 at the age of 23.

After a pair of wins and second-place finishes on the Japan Tour, Matsuyama qualified for the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, where he finished tied for 10th place. When he followed up joint sixth at Muirfield in the Open Championship that same year, there was little doubt he had a world of potential, which he began to fulfill in front of Tournament Founder and Host Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

"To win my first Tour event is enough, but to win it here at Mr. Nicklaus' course it really gives me a lot of confidence now," said Matsuyama, who only a week earlier at Colonial finished in a disappointing tie for 10th after holding a share of the third-round lead. "Hopefully I'll be able to use this week as a stepping stone to further my career."

Given the way he finished, he should further it along nicely.

Matsuyama, who played well for the International Team the previous fall in The Presidents Cup, carded a closing 3-under-par 69, but he needed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Na at 13-under 275. Matsuyama became the first man in the history of the Memorial Tournament to birdie the home hole at Muirfield Village all four days.

The playoff was only the fifth overtime occurrence in the 39-year history of the Memorial, and the first since David Edwards beat Rick Fehr in 1992.

Still seeking his first win, Na was equally impressive with a sterling 64 on a sun-filled Sunday, but after sitting for two hours, he drove poorly on the playoff hole, the par-4 18th, which opened the door for Matsuyama's winning par.

"Obviously I hit a bad tee shot. But he deserved that with that great putt. He won it," Na said graciously.

Masters champion Bubba Watson was the man to beat when he began the final round with a one-stroke lead, but he played an inconsistent back nine that dropped him into third place -- still pretty good considering it was 20 places better than he'd ever done before at Muirfield Village. He closed with a 72.

In addition to the fantastic finish, the Memorial Tournament enjoyed fantastic weather. Bright sunshine warmed the course for four days.

"Let me tell you something," Ernie Els, the 2004 Memorial winner, said with a smile. "I've been coming here for 20 years, and we've never had four days like this."

Rain or shine, though, the Memorial Tournament always delivers a compelling competition.

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