KAPALUA, Hawaii (Reuters) - Hideki Matsuyama, helped by three consecutive birdies on each nine, moved one step closer to his second PGA Tour victory by surging into a tie for the lead at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Japanese, already regarded by his peers as one of the best iron players in the game, produced near-flawless golf as he fired a seven-under-par 66 in the third round on the hilly Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort.
Matsuyama, who clinched his maiden PGA Tour win at last year’s Memorial Tournament, signed off with his eighth birdie of the day at the par-five 18th to post a 17-under total of 202 in the elite winners-only event.
That put him level with American Jimmy Walker, a three-times champion on the U.S. circuit last season who briefly led by two shots on Sunday but was unable to get the putts to drop over the closing stretch on the way to a 67.
”I made a lot of putts today, so it was a good round,“ Matsuyama, who totaled only 26 putts, told reporters through an interpreter. ”If I can play tomorrow like I did yesterday and today, I’ll have a chance (to win).
“Obviously that’s going to be difficult to do. I hope to be relaxed and be able to play my golf tomorrow.”
Walker, one of four players tied for the lead overnight, burst two shots clear of a tightly bunched leaderboard with four birdies on the front nine as he reached the turn in four-under 32.
Though his advantage was briefly trimmed to one by fellow American Russell Henley, he immediately regained a two-stroke cushion by sinking a 12-footer to birdie the par-four 10th.
However, Matsuyama drew level at the top with three birdies in a row from the 13th and Walker did well to salvage par at the 14th after his tee shot sailed way right into thick grass.
Both players birdied the final hole to move two strokes clear of the chasing pack.
”I hit really good shots all the way around the back (nine), a couple of bad putts,“ said Walker. ”I didn’t feel like I was losing any mo (momentum).
“I was hitting it good. That’s all I was caring about was hitting it good, getting looks, because eventually I was going to make something.”
South Korea’s Bae Sang-moon, among the four joint leaders overnight, carded a 69 to end the day tied for third at 15 under with American Patrick Reed (68).
Editing by Peter Rutherford