After winning the Masters Tournament back in April, Hideki Matsuyama has not exactly basked in the glory of being a major champion.
He missed a month off the tour due to Japan’s strict COVID protocols. He then was forced off the circuit again, just ahead of the Olympics, after testing positive for COVID in Detroit at the Rocket Mortgage.
In between, the Japanese star posted four consecutive results outside the top 20, and even missed The Open Championship – the season’s final major.
But on Sunday, the 29-year old will be paired once again with Xander Schauffele in the final group. This time with with a gold medal on the line, not a green jacket, but still with an entire nation on his shoulders.
“I definitely could not have believed it,” said Matsuyama on Saturday after shooting a 67 to reach 13 under par, one back of Schauffele.
“To be honest, the endurance part of my game has been struggling a little bit. Thankfully, it’s held up the last few days.
“Hopefully, it’s going to hold up tomorrow, as well.”
He added, “I’m sure Xander will come out determined to win the gold medal tomorrow.”
Schauffele, who carded a final-hole birdie to get to 14 under, admits tomorrow’s race for the gold will mean a bit more than a Sunday on the PGA Tour.
“Tomorrow may feel a little different,” said Schauffele, who is looking for his first win since early 2019.
“There’s a little bit more on the line than what we normally play for, and you’re obviously trying to represent your country to the best of your ability.
“So that’s why I’ll be on the range tonight.”
Joining Matsuyama and Schauffele in Sunday’s final group will be Paul Casey, who shot 66 to reach 12 under, alongside Carols Ortiz (69).
The 44-year-old Casey is looking to keep the gold medal in Britain’s hands, and join Justin Rose as the only Olympic gold medalists of the modern era.
“I think it gets knocked quite a bit, doesn’t it?” said Casey about Olympic golf.
“It’s like ‘Why do we need it?’ But the guys that are here are very aware what this means to one person.
“Well, it will be three medals, but to the gold medalist, it’s massive.”
Also in the hunt was Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who posted 67 to sit three back at T5, alongside Sebastian Munoz (66) of Colombia, Chile’s Mito Pereira (68) and round-one leader Sepp Straka (68) of Austria.
One further back were a pair of (expected) European Ryder Cup teammates of Casey and McIlroy: Shane Lowry (68) of Ireland and Tommy Fleetwood (64) of Great Britain.
In total, ten players were separated by just four shots.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Round-3 Leaderboard: Top-10
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 3)
1. Xander Schauffele -14 (-3)
2. Hideki Matsuyama -13 (-4)
3. Paul Casey -12 (-5)
3. Carlos Ortiz -12 (-2)
5. Sepp Straka -11 (-3)
5. Mito Pereira -11 (-3)
5. Sebastian Munoz -11 (-5)
5. Rory McIlroy -11 (-4)
9. Tommy Fleetwood -10 (-7)
9. Shane Lowry -10 (-3)
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 3)
11. Abraham Ancer -9 (-5)
11. Cameron Smith -9 (-5)
14. Thomas Pieters -8 (-7)
14. Joaquin Niemann -8 (-5)
17. Collin Morikawa -7 (-4)
17. Alex Noren -7 (+1)
32. Viktor Hovland -5 (E)
38. Justin Thomas -4 (-3)
38. Patrick Reed -4 (-1)
49. Marc Leishman E (-1)