Hideki Matsuyama looking to become first Japanese men's major champion

Hideki Matsuyama looking to become first Japanese men’s major champion

Hideki Matsuyama could be to Japan what Adam Scott was in 2013 to Australia. Just two shots off the 54-hole lead of Jordan Spieth, Matsuyama is in position to become the first Japanese man to win a major championship.

Women's golf is actually more popular in Japan -- like it is in South Korea -- so Matsuyama thinks a green jacket might elevate the men's game in a country whose up-and-coming generation is largely rejecting golf.

"We have a women's tour in Japan that is very, very popular," Matsuyama said Saturday through a translator. "Hopefully a major win would give more popularity to the men's tour."

Despite the popularity of the JLPGA and LPGA in Japan, the country only has one female major champion: Chako Higuchi, who won the 1977 LPGA Championship.

Matsuyama is the latest golf product that has inspired hopes of breaking through with a men's major. The only two-time winner of the Augusta National-run Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, Matsuyama has taken the mantle from Ryo Ishikawa, who dominated in Japan as a teenager but whose game has so far translated poorly to the PGA Tour and major championship golf.

The best finish by a Japanese man in a major belongs to Isao Aoki, who finished second to Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol in New Jersey. Aoki earned five top-10 major finishes in his career, one behind Tommy Nakajima. Nakajima had the lead on the tee of the 71st hole of the 1978 Open Championship at St. Andrews but made a stunning 9 on the Road Hole par-4 17th. A decade later, he finished third in the 1988 PGA Championship.

As for the Masters, two Japanese players have each finished tied for fourth: Toshi Izawa in 2001 and Shingo Katayama in 2009.

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