DUBLIN, Ohio — Muirfield Village has tamed most of the Memorial Tournament field so far, but Hideki Matsuyama can’t get enough of the place.
“I really like this golf course,” the Japanese golfer said through a translator after shooting a 7-under 65 Friday to take a one-shot lead midway through the second round. “I wish I could play it more in a non-tournament setting because it’s just fantastic here. But it is a difficult golf course, and that’s the big challenge here.”
Matsuyama won the Memorial in 2014, his first time playing the event. He’s also finished tied for fifth in 2015 and sixth in 2019. Last year, Matsuyama was disqualified in the first round because his 3-wood had illegal markings on it.
On Thursday, he was 2-over after a double-bogey on No. 12 before he eagled the par-5 15th. He was one foot from holing out from 239 yards on his second shot.
On Friday, his putting sizzled in a bogey-free round. He made birdie putts of 13 and 17 feet on his front nine. Matsuyama then overtook David Lipsky for the lead by making a 25-foot putt on No. 7 and a 33-footer on the par-3 eighth.
“To make those putts were huge,” he said. “The course is playing tough, especially the greens. If the greens get even harder than they are now, it’s going to be a challenge this weekend. But today the putts went in, and so I’m satisfied.”
Matsuyama won the 2021 Masters to become the first Asian-born player to win at Augusta. But the last year has been a bit of a struggle, partly because of a neck injury he sustained last March. Matsuyama has only one top-5 finish since the end of January.
“It’s been a tough spell,” he said. “My distance is down from where it was. But I’m working through it and hopefully, we’ll have a good summer.”
Even before the Masters win, Matsuyama was a huge star in Japan. He has a Japanese media throng assigned to follow him.
“I’m grateful that the media is here,” Matsuyama said. “It’s my connection to my fans back in Japan. I’m glad they’re able it see me play. But sometimes there is an expectation that is difficult to live up to sometimes.”
The 31-year-old Matsuyama is sporting a new look these days – a beard.
“I don’t know why I let it grow out, but then everybody says, ‘Man, it looks really good,’ so I guess it might be here to stay,” he said with a smile.
He has reason to smile again at Muirfield Village, his home away from home. When he was asked about getting a membership, he replied, “Yeah, we’ll talk to Mr. Nicklaus about that. Maybe (Westerville, Ohio, resident) Jason (Day) can give us a recommendation.”