Hideki Matsuyama surge keeps Russell Henley on toes at Sony Open
January 15, 2022
By Ben Everill , PGATOUR.COM
Hideki Matsuyama gets up-and-down for birdie at Sony Open
HONOLULU – Hideki Matsuyama was wondering how Russell Henley feels sleeping on a lead after the Masters champion surged towards the top in the third round at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
But he didn’t expect as honest an answer to come from the American himself.
“It’s tough. I’ve slept on a few leads the last couple years. It’s hard. I struggle to sleep. I'm already not the best sleeper,” Henley admitted after a grinding 3-under 67 left him 18-under at Waialae Country Club, good enough to be two ahead of Matsuyama.
“Gosh, my first two wins were my first two years on TOUR and this is my 10th season, so got to remember back a few years for those. But I definitely believe I can do it. But it’s sure hard to do.
“I've had some tough finishes, tough to swallow. It's a tough game.”
The far from confident appraisal was music to the ears of Matsuyama who started the round six back and finished it just two adrift thanks to a 7-under 63. He will now chase an eighth TOUR win and second this season after his ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP win in the fall. Victory would almost certainly also bring the FedExCup lead.
“Putting was my strong point today. Even my missed putts found the hole,” Matsuyama dead panned. “I was lucky today.”
He made 121-feet, 4 inches worth on Saturday to rank second in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, riding a huge wave of support from the Hawaiian faithful.
It might not resemble the throngs of fans at his home ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP but it was clear the Japanese star was a favorite amongst the people. He’s hoping they’ll help him to increase Henley’s insomnia on Sunday.
“It really helps out,” Matsuyama said of the support. “Whenever there is a big crowd like this it just gives you some extra motivation, and just kind of rode with all their cheers and hopefully tomorrow will be another good day.”
The only concern for Matsuyama might have been soreness or an injury as he was seen wincing a few times throughout the round. But he was quick to put any fears to bed.
“Nothing major,” he said. “I felt a pull here and there, but nothing serious.”
Henley’s concerns might be more founded in fact. He has indeed missed some chances since claiming his third PGA TOUR win at the Houston Open in 2017. It followed his Sony Open triumph in 2013 and Honda Classic win in 2014 but since then the scars have started to form.
He’s 1 for 6 when holding the 36-hole lead on TOUR although the lone conversion was his Sony Open win. As for the 54-hole lead – he’s 1 from 5 with that 2013 Waialae win again the only triumph.
Three of the failures have come in the last 15 months where he lost the lead on Sunday at THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK, the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last June and the Wyndham Championship last August.
He led by three at Wyndham and faded to T7 and he shared the lead at Torrey but had a three-shot buffer on eventual winner Jon Rahm. Henley had to settle for T13.
“Guys are so good out here. You just have to play at such a high level for so long to be in contention. So hopefully I can keep doing that and play well tomorrow, give myself a chance on the back nine,” Henley said.
“I don't really have a specific game plan for this. Doesn't happen that much. Usually, we're all just grinding to make the cut and sneak in a top 25. I'm just really trying to stay patient, stay focused on one shot at a time.”
Perhaps the fact the pair at the top are trying to deflect pressure from their game could open the door for some other challengers. Veteran and 2019 Sony Open champion Matt Kuchar is one of four players four off the pace, joined by China’s Haotong Li, Ireland’s Seamus Power and Canada’s Adam Svensson.
“Russell is playing great; you got Hideki Matsuyama right there. You can count on him playing quality golf as well. I know it's going to take a low number for me tomorrow,” Kuchar said.
“I would love to be able to tell you I'm just going go out and do it. If it were that easy, I would try to do it every day. This course, you've got to take what it gives you. If you find the fairway you can be aggressive; if not, you're trying to make some pars.
“I'm going to try to hit the first fairway, hit if close if I hit the first fairway, and go from there.”