Hideki Matsuyama steps up his quest to end Asia’s wait for a second golf major
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Hideki Matsuyama steps up his quest to end Asia’s wait for a second golf major

EIGHT years on from Yang Yong-eun’s dramatic comeback to defeat Tiger Woods and become the first Asian man to win one of golf’s four major titles, the wait for a second champion continues.

Asian women have dominated golf, with 21 of the last 35 major tournaments being won by Korean, Thai, Chinese or Taiwanese players.

In the same period, Danielle Kang, Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko – all of whom play under either the US or New Zealand flag but are of Korean origin – have collected a further four major title wins between them.

But not since that day in August 2009, when Yang fought back from six shots behind Woods to beat him to the PGA Championship title by three strokes, has an Asian man won a major.

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(Woods, who has won 14 major titles, has some Thai heritage, while Vijay Singh, with three wins, is of Indian descent. But they play under the US and Fiji flags, respectively).

Hopes are high, though, that the wait could be about to end.

The third major of the year, The Open Championship, begins on Thursday at Royal Birkdale – 19 miles from Liverpool on England’s northwestern coast – and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama is in fine shape to challenge.

The 25-year-old has climbed as high as No 2 in the world rankings and is the only player in the top six yet to win a major.

He came close in the US Open at Erin Hills last month, finishing runner-up to American Brooks Koepka. The pair will play together again in England this week, and Koepka told Reuters: “You look at how many good players there are. You look at how it was at Erin Hills.

“Everyone up there hadn’t won a major. Rickie (Fowler), Justin (Thomas), Hideki; they haven’t won majors and I think everyone in this room knows they’re going to win one. It’s only a question of when, not if.”

Matsuyama may be second only to American Dustin Johnson in the world rankings but he is eighth in the betting to win The Open, which appears to offer value to those thinking of backing him.

He has already secured five top-10 major finishes in a relatively short career and if he can putt well at Royal Birkdale, he can be expected to challenge for the title.

As Koepka said: “Anytime you play with Hideki, you know he’s going to play well. Sometimes you can kind of feed off that and hopefully it does this week.”

Matsuyama certainly looks as if he on the brink of taking the next step in his career, and leads an impressive field of Asian golfers looking to make their mark at Royal Birkdale.

Including Matsuyama, 18 Asian players will tee off on Thursday, with 22-year-old Korean Kim Si-woo ranked 32nd in the world, Japan’s Hideto Tanahara in 50th place and An Byeong-hun of Korea 60th.

If anyone can emulate Yang’s achievement at Hazeltine National eight years ago, though, the smart money would be Matsuyama.

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