Three years later, the defeat still stings for Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama.
A fired-up International Team was finally enjoying the upper hand against a Tiger Woods-led United States Team at Royal Melbourne in 2019, leading into Sunday’s singles session for the first time since 2003.
On the final day, Captain Ernie Els sent Matsuyama out in the second singles match against Tony Finau. And through 10 holes the vital point seemed all but assured, with the Japanese sensation opening a commanding 4-up lead.
Finau, though, had other ideas, as he mounted a spirited fightback to win the next four holes – three with birdies – before scrapping out a vital tie for the U.S. The result felt like an outright win as the Americans rode on the Finau momentum to turn the tables on the home team for a pulsating 16-14 victory at the end.
“We came so close to getting the win in 2019,” said Matsuyama. “It still frustrates me to think back at how close we came to getting it done. But we’ve got a new team and hopefully this year will be a different story and we’ll be able to bring home the Cup.”
If he gets drawn against Finau at Quail Hollow Club this week, there will no doubt be an extra impetus for Matsuyama to exact revenge.
“Of course I’d love to win. In 2019, I had the lead going into those last few holes and let him back in which was really disappointing,” said Matsuyama.
The 30-year-old, who holds eight PGA TOUR wins and is ranked No. 17 in the world, will be counted upon by captain Trevor Immelman to help shoulder the load for the youngest squad in International Team history, with eight rookies on this year’s roster.
After veteran star Adam Scott, who will be making his 10th straight appearance for the Internationals, Matsuyama is the second-most experienced team member as he prepares to make his fifth start. Like the Aussie, he is hungry to taste a long overdue victory but knows they face an uphill battle. The Americans are stacked with 12 players ranked inside the world’s top-25.
“I’d be thrilled (to win the Cup), but Adam has played in more of these than any of us and I’m sure he would be the most happy. Tour pros don’t get many opportunities to experience a team competition, and it’s an honour to be a member of the International Team. It’s going to be my fifth and I will do my best to contribute to our team to get a win,” said Matsuyama.
He presently holds a 6-7-4 (win-loss-tie) record following his debut in 2013 and is tipped to pair up with one of the rookies. In 2019, he teamed up with C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei in the Fourball sessions and won both matches against Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed. Matsuyama paired up with Byeong Hun An of Korea in a Foursomes match but lost 1-up to Woods and Justin Thomas.
He reckons the new team spirit forged by Els will be carried through by Immelman, who will be captaining the Internationals for the first time.
“Compared to past captains, I think Ernie’s heart and desire could really be felt and he had a very positive impact on our team. I’m sure it will be the same with Trevor, and it’s rewarding for me to be able to play under his captaincy,” said Matsuyama.