Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama produced a career best nine-hole score of 28 to charge into contention at the Sony Open in Hawaii on Friday.
After being two-over through 11 holes, the 28-year-old Matsuyama brilliantly sank five birdies and a closing eagle in a glorious seven-hole stretch for the second round of 5-under 65 and ended the day in tied seventh position.
He will enter the weekend rounds at Waialae Country Club three back of leader Nick Taylor of Canada, who carded a career low 62 to lead the storied PGA TOUR event on 12-under 128.
Matsuyama’s effort, which he produced on the front nine after starting his day from the 10th, was only the third ever in the tournament history since 1983 as he chases a sixth career PGA TOUR victory. He is also seeking to emulate compatriot Isao Aoki’s famous victory in Hawaii in 1983 which saw him become the first Japanese winner on TOUR.
K.J. Choi of Korea, 50, was also in fine form in his first start of 2021 as he turned back the clock with a bogey-free 65 to lie four back in tied 15th place.
Matsuyama, whose last victory came in 2017, languished near the projected cut line for much of his round following three early bogeys against a lone birdie before he romped home in style when his putter began to find its range.
A 15-foot birdie conversion on the third hole was quickly followed up by a massive 38-foot conversion at the next. Matsuyama parred the fifth before cruising home in style by converting three more birdies and a 10-foot eagle on the par-5 ninth hole.
“It didn’t matter what I did on the front, things just weren’t going my way. But thankfully some putts started to fall on the back nine and I was able to turn things around a little bit. Now if I can just continue the momentum from today through the weekend, I hope to put myself in a position to win,” said Matsuyama, who entered the week in 22nd position on the FedExCup points list.
It was a welcome return to form for the Presidents Cup International Team star as he shared last place at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week. Matsuyama hit 11 fairways and 16 greens in regulation on Friday and was rewarded for his patience when his putting eventually got hot.
A decade on after the last of his eight PGA TOUR wins, the evergreen Choi, who now plies his trade on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions, emerged as a potential threat at the Sony Open, an event he won in 2008 and has two other top-10 finishes.
He pencilled down birdies on Hole Nos. 10, 14, 1, 7 and 9, which included a lengthy 50-foot birdie on the first hole. “I’m very happy and the weekend is vital,” said Choi, who scrambled beautifully with five up-and-down par saves.
“My game is improving, the short game and putting feels it is getting better. My hometown is in Dallas which is very windy and you have to control your shots. In 2008, I did it here and I was the champion. It always feels comfortable for me here even though there are no fans which is very sad.”
India’s Anirban Lahiri and Korea’s Si Woo Kim will enter the third round on 134 following rounds of 65 and 70 respectively while K.H. Lee and Sungjae Im of Korea, Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira and Ryosuke Kinoshita also made the halfway cut set at 137.
Second-Round Notes – Friday, January 15, 2021
Weather: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind E 6-12 mph.
36-hole cut: 73 players at 4-under 136 from a field of 143 professionals and one amateur
Nick Taylor 66-62 – 128 (-12)
Stewart Cink 67-63 – 130 (-10)
Webb Simpson 65-65 – 130 (-10)
Russell Henley 66-64 – 130 (-10)
Vaughn Taylor 64-66 – 130 (-10)
Chris Kirk 65-65 – 130 (-10)