Fitzpatrick, Simpson share lead at WGC-Workday Championship

By Sports Desk February 25, 2021

England's Matt Fitzpatrick and American Webb Simpson took a share of the lead in a star-studded field at the WGC-Workday Championship.

World number 16 Fitzpatrick carded a six-under 66 without dropping a shot on day one at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.

Ninth-ranked Simpson closed a clean back nine with three straight birdies and a par to climb up the leaderboard and match the 26-year-old Englishman's score.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka dropped his only shot at the par-four 16th, but is alongside three others at five under.

Americans Kevin Kisner and Billy Horschel also carded 67s and were joined in third place by 2017 Masters winner Sergio Garcia, who drained a round-high eight birdies.

World number two Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed were among six players tied in seventh at four under, along with Tony Finau.

Adam Scott saw a potential hole-in-one come back off the flag at the sixth and shot an up-and-down even-par 72, while Justin Thomas recovered from dropping four shots in three holes to close with three birdies in the last four to sign for a one-over 73.

World number one Dustin Johnson posted a pair of double bogeys on his way to a five-over 77. That score was matched by US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who dropped shots on seven holes.

Rory McIlroy made a decent start, shooting a three-under 69 to sit in a tie for 13th.

The first World Golf Championships event of the season kicks off the Florida swing of the tour, heading towards The Players Championship starting on March 11.

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  • The Masters: Matsuyama victory has taken golf up a notch, says Player The Masters: Matsuyama victory has taken golf up a notch, says Player

    Hideki Matsuyama's maiden major triumph has elevated golf to a new level, according to Gary Player.

    Matsuyama entered the history books as he became the first Japanese man to prevail at a major after winning The Masters on Sunday.

    The 29-year-old, with five PGA Tour titles under his belt prior to his Augusta triumph, held his nerve to win by one shot and claim the famed green jacket.

    Matsuyama (2011) became the third Masters champion in the last five years to have previously earned low amateur honours, following in the footsteps of Tiger Woods (2019, low amateur in 1995) and Sergio Garcia (2017, low amateur in 1999).

    Having clocked up seven top-10 finishes across golf's four headline tournaments, Matsuyama catapulted himself into esteemed company with his Georgia glory and Player, a nine-time major winner, knows there is a huge gap between winners and also-rans. 

    And he feels Matsuyama's success has taken the sport "up a notch".

    "Now you see there are lots of ifs and ands, but finishing second, only your wife and your dog knows about it – that's if you've got a good dog," the South African, who donned the green jacket three times, told Stats Perform News.

    "So now he comes along and he wins the Masters in great style and I said to him, 'I'm very happy that you won because you can be president or prime minister of Japan and I won't need a visa!'.

    "No, his play was exemplary, he kept his cool, and what wins golf tournaments is not long driving as we are brainwashed about, it's the putter and the mind.

    "I'm so happy he won because I want to see people win golf tournaments where golf is going to be the benefactor.

    "More clubs will be sold around the world now and golf went up a notch. I always wanted to have the best world record as a global golfer, not just in America only, so for me to see an international player win, I'm always happy to see anybody win but it's going to do golf so much good. I can't tell you.

    "If this wasn't during COVID you would have had people flying over from Japan the night before, the press people. He would have had 60 representatives of the media in Japan because they've been thirsting and hungry and starved for a major championship winner. And a golfing nation of that status has been deprived of that, and there they've got it at last. Thank goodness."

  • The Masters: Augusta champion Matsuyama inspired by MLB stars Ohtani, Darvish and Maeda The Masters: Augusta champion Matsuyama inspired by MLB stars Ohtani, Darvish and Maeda

    Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama said he admirers countrymen and MLB stars Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda and Shohei Ohtani after becoming the first Japanese man to win a major.

    Matsuyama made history with his one-stroke victory ahead of Will Zalatoris in a tense finale at Augusta on Sunday.

    A five-time PGA Tour winner before this success, Matsuyama withstood a wobble and the threat posed by Xander Schauffele (72) and Zalatoris (70) to complete a history-making performance in Georgia, where he carded a final-round 73 to claim the green jacket.

    Matsuyama was asked about his golfing heroes after the memorable achievement, but the 29-year-old instead listed his baseball idols – Los Angeles Angels two-way sensation Ohtani, four-time All-Star and San Diego Padres ace Darvish and Minnesota Twins pitcher Maeda.

    "You know, the people that I admired were a lot -- were mainly baseball players: Darvish, Ohtani, Maeda," Matsuyama told reporters.

    "As far as golf, not so much. Hopefully now others will, like you said, be inspired for what happened here today and follow in my footsteps."

    "It's been a struggle recently," added Matsuyama, who had last won on the PGA Tour in 2017. "This year, no Top 10s, haven't even contended. So I came to Augusta with little or no expectations. But as the week progressed, as I practiced, especially on Wednesday, I felt something again. I found something in my swing.

    "And when that happens, the confidence returns. And so I started the tournament with a lot of confidence."

    Matsuyama (2011) – who finished 10 under – became the third Masters champion in the last five years to have previously earned low amateur honours, following in the footsteps of Woods (2019, low amateur in 1995) and Sergio Garcia (2017, low amateur in 1999).

    With his final-round 73, Matsuyama became the eighth player (nine instances) to claim The Masters despite an over-par final round – Trevor Immelman was the last to do so in 2008.

    It came after Matsuyama – four strokes clear at the start of the day – had extended his lead to five at the turn, before his title bid threatened to turn sour as Schauffele closed in and Zalatoris loomed.

    After finding water at the par-five 15th hole, Matsuyama took the penalty and cleaned up for bogey as Schauffele continued to heap pressure on the Japanese hopeful, cutting the lead to two shots with his fourth consecutive birdie.

    But Schauffele's pursuit of a maiden major collapsed when the American – seven back at the 12th tee before rallying – also found water before sending his next shot into the crowd.

    Matsuyama had a routine par to move three shots clear with two to play, but he dropped another shot, his lead down to two ahead of Zalatoris as an ill-timed triple-bogey sent 2019 runner-up Schauffele down to equal third alongside Jordan Spieth – four shots behind.

    That was the breathing space Matsuyama needed as Japan's new poster boy held his nerve, doing what he needed to do during the final two holes in front of an appreciative crowd on the 18th, where not even a bogey could wipe away the champion's smile.

    "Xander had just made three birdies in a row at 12, 13 and 14. I hit the fairway at 15, hitting first, with Xander having the momentum," Matsuyama said as he discussed his approach on the 15th and 16th holes. "I felt I needed to birdie 15 because I knew Xander would definitely be birdieing or maybe even eagling.

    "But it didn't happen. And so I stood on the 16th tee with a two-stroke lead, and unfortunately for Xander, he found the water with his tee shot and I played safe to the right of the green at 16."

    "I can't say I'm the greatest. However, I'm the first to win a major, and if that's the bar, then I've set it," Matsuyama said when asked if he is the greatest male golfer out of Japan following his success.

  • The Masters: Runner-up Zalatoris frustrated but revels in Augusta 'dream' The Masters: Runner-up Zalatoris frustrated but revels in Augusta 'dream'

    Will Zalatoris was frustrated to have finished second at The Masters, but the Augusta debutant basked in his "dream" week at the iconic major.

    Zalatoris did not look out of place in his rookie Masters appearance, the 24-year-old earning the runners-up cheque, just a stroke behind history-making champion Hideki Matsuyama on Sunday.

    Tied for sixth at last year's U.S. Open, Zalatoris – who had no status when the 2020-21 PGA Tour started in September as the coronavirus pandemic meant there was no Qualifying Tournament for the developmental Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 – catapulted himself into Masters contention.

    Attempting to become the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win his Masters debut, Zalatoris carded a two-under-par 70 in the final round, which included five birdies and three bogeys.

    Zalatoris, who now has six top-10 and 11 top-25 finishes in his 15 Tour starts this season, said: "Absolute dream. To be in a situation, I've been dreaming about it for 20 years.

    "I thought I did a really good job this week of just enjoying the moment, but not letting it get to me. I think I kind of let everything soak in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then back to work on Thursday.

    "So it was an absolute treat, and obviously to come up one short and be disappointed is motivating but obviously very exciting."

    Zalatoris – the only player to shoot under par in all four rounds at this year's Masters – said: "I think the fact that I'm frustrated I finished second in my third major says something, and the fact that I didn't let any moment really get to me, was really exciting.

    "And obviously my two majors as a pro, I finished sixth and runner-up. I know if I keep doing what I doing, I'm going to have a really good chance in the future."

    "I've wanted to be on this stage for forever, for basically my entire life. So I think, if anything, it's like you finally get to this moment, and why shy away now? I've gotten here. So let's go do some damage. It was a fun week," Zalatoris continued.

    "I can play with the best players in the world."

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