Masters champ Matsuyama returns at PGA Byron Nelson

Washington (AFP) –


Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama will try to recapture his form after a month off, including a celebration in Japan, when he tees off Thursday at the US PGA Byron Nelson tournament.

Matsuyama became the first men's major winner from Japan when he captured the green jacket last month at Augusta National, but had barely picked up a club before practice rounds this week at TPC Craig Ranch in suburban Dallas.

"After you win a tournament, you make some adjustments and you go on," Matsuyama said. "But this time going back to Japan and really not picking up a club much over there, I didn't get to practice very much at all.

"Coming back here, really one of my goals now is just to try to find my game again and prepare for the PGA Championship next week."

Matsuyama, 29, says he is prepared for the extra attention he will receive next week at Kiawah Island at the year's second major tournament.

"I realize now the responsibility that goes with a major championship, especially the Masters," Matsuyama said. "I'm honored. I'm flattered by the added attention.

"At the same time, sometimes it's difficult to say no. But it goes with the territory and, again, grateful that I have this opportunity and I'll try my best to prepare well for what's to come."

World number 15 Matsuyama spent two weeks in Covid-19 quarantine when he got back home, then spent time with his family. While isolated, he read how his exploits were hailed in his homeland.

"I was able to probably read every news article," Matsuyama said. "Seeing how the Masters win was portrayed in Japan was great, really unforgettable.

"A bit embarrassing -- I'm not used to all that attention -- but grateful that people took notice."

He watched highlights of his Masters victory and relived his most nerve-wracking moments.

"While I was watching those highlights, I got nervous again, just like I was playing," he said. "It was, at some points, difficult to watch because I was so nervous and all those nervous memories were brought back."

Matsuyama wore his green jacket to meet the media and when receiving an award from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, but says it hasn't changed him.

"It was a relief, really, to win the Masters," he said. "Looking forward, I still have the drive to want to win more on the PGA Tour."

Matsuyama plans on getting some advice before deciding on the meniu for the 2022 Masters Champions Dinner.

"Sushi does come to mind," he said. "I'm a little worried. I don't know if everyone will really like sushi or not.

"There's a lot of really good food from Japan, some of the best beef in the world, so I'm thinking about that and looking forward to it next year."

- 'Grinds his tail off' -

Jordan Spieth, third at the Masters, recalled a 2019 event in Japan when he was paired with Matsuyama.

"It was six deep the entire first fairway," Spieth said. "Maybe the most exciting, nerve-wracking crowd I had ever played in front of on a Thursday and Friday. It was just crazy. It's next-level stuff."

American Will Zalatoris, the Masters runner-up, was unable to congratulate Matsuyama at Augusta but did so in the course parking lot Tuesday.

"It was nice to share a moment and just tell him congratulations," Zalatoris said. "Making history like that for an entire country is unbelievable."

Top-ranked Dustin Johnson, last year's Masters champion, withdrew from the Byron Nelson with a knee injury.

South Korean Kang Sung won the most recent Byron Nelson in 2019, before the event moved to his home course.

"I live about five miles from here and I've been practicing here probably the last over 10 years," Kang said. "I'm very excited and I'll be very comfortable this week."