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Hideki Matsuyama fired a clean card of 65 on Thursday in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He is 6 under after 18 holes and trails first-round leader Matt Kuchar by just one.

Matsuyama was lights out from the start on Thursday as he birdied his very first hole of the day and shot a front nine of 32. He was scorching with his iron play, per the usual, as he finished No. 3 in the field in strokes gained off the tee and No. 6 in strokes gained on approaches. He called his iron play “the best part of my game” and noted how many greens he hit on Thursday (17 of 18 in regulation).

This is not new territory for Matsuyama. He is tied with Brendan Steele for second and one up on a group of five that includes Rickie Fowler, whom Matsuyama defeated at this tournament last year. His opening-round score in that event? The same as this year: 65.

Matsuyama also has two other top-five finishes here in his only other appearances. He actually ranked the TPC Scottsdale course his favorite course on the PGA Tour on Thursday because he has “good success here and [has] played well here.”

“I wish I knew why I play well here, but I did hit the ball very well today, hit a lot of greens, a lot of good shots,” said Matsuyama. “I’m not hitting it and putting it as well as I did in Shanghai, but hopefully throughout the week here I can get to that same level and compete for the win again.”

Here is a look at all four appearances by Matsuyama in Phoenix over the course of his career.

YearRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Finish
201765
2016657068671
201569716367T2
2014666769869T4

Following an absurd stretch of two wins and two runner-up finishes to start the PGA Tour season, Matsuyama cooled at the Sony Open and Farmers Insurance Open, finishing T27 and T33, respectively. Regardless, he has pretty easily had the best PGA Tour season of anyone not named “Justin Thomas.”

Thomas beat Matsuyama at the CIMB Classic in November and again at the Tournament of Champions in January. If not for him, Matsuyama would already have four (!) wins. Those two are far and away the top two in the current FedEx Cup standings.

The best part of Matsuyama’s game (besides that preposterously good swing) is his ability to stay in the moment. He doesn’t seem impressed with his own success and rarely mopes around the course. He’s a flatliner, and that serves him well on a tour where riding the roller coaster of emotion can send you back to the minor leagues faster than you can say “Waste Management Phoenix Open.”

Matsuyama was asked about this zone he seems to exist in and how it compared to the player everyone in his generation is trying to chase.

“You know, I grind,” said Matsuyama. “But Tiger is Tiger, and I’m different from him. All of us have our way of getting around the course. All I’m out there doing is trying to do my best.”

That’s been plenty in Phoenix in recent years, and it looks like it might be again this time around.


Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Hideki Matsuyama stays hot with 65, trails by one at WM Phoenix Open