Commentary

Missteps pave way for Matsuyama

Updated: June 1, 2014, 9:05 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

DUBLIN, Ohio -- The look on Jack Nicklaus' face spoke volumes early Sunday evening at his pride-and-joy golf course and tournament. It suggested mild disgust, perhaps frustration, and maybe even, "Geez, I would have whipped these guys."

Nicklaus, the 18-time major winner, watched helplessly as a couple of high-profile major champions squandered a chance to win his Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, followed by the sudden-death playoff participants making a mess of the 18th hole.

[+] EnlargeBubba Watson
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesIf it wasn't for this wayward tee shot at the par-5 15th hole Sunday at Muirfield Village Golf Club, Bubba Watson might have picked up his third win of the PGA Tour season.

Hideki Matsuyama prevailed with a par -- after having birdied the final hole all four rounds in regulation -- with his back-nine troubles obscured by a clutch birdie to force a playoff with Kevin Na.

Left to wonder what happened was Bubba Watson and Adam Scott.

The winners of the past three Masters. The No. 1-ranked player in the world and one bidding to move into the No. 2 spot. The most accomplished competitors on the leaderboard.

And they combined to play the back nine in 4 over par.

"The whole thing is frustrating as I stand here right now," said Scott, whose final-round 71 left him 3 shots out the playoff. "But everyone's going to feel like that. We all could have done something different."

Matsuyama, 22, won his first PGA Tour title and is quite the story himself, now having five victories in just more than a year as a pro, the other four coming on the Japan Tour.

Having competed in the Presidents Cup here last fall -- playing all of his matches with Scott as his partner -- and already with top 30 finishes (including two top-10s) in the four major championships, Matsuyama has a bright future.

But Scott will be knocking his head with the broom handle of his long putter and Watson might be tempted to poke himself with that pink-shafted driver.

That club, essentially, cost Watson the tournament. His way-errant tee shot at the par-5 15th sailed over huge trees and out of bounds into a homeowners' lawn, causing Nicklaus to marvel at how the ball could get in that position.

"Bad decision, trying to be a hero," said Watson, who lamented not hitting a 4-wood off the tee. "It's not a comfortable tee shot for me because I like to cut it, but I was trying to go over the tree with a cut and I just pulled it."

That led to a double-bogey 7 after a bogey at the previous hole. Watson stood on the 14th tee at 15 under par, finished at 12 under, and missed a playoff by a shot.

A victory would have been his third of the year and made him a firm favorite for PGA Tour player of the year honors. As it is, Watson has two wins, including the Masters, two runner-up finishes and a third.

"I'm playing better in places that I haven't played, I haven't been known to play very well at; so it's good," said Watson, who had never finished better than 23rd at the Memorial. "But it's all mindset. If I can get my mindset and just stay focused on what I'm doing. For me it's very hard to stay focused.

"That's why I keep my head down. I'm never mad. I just keep my head down so I stay focused on what I'm doing. And obviously it's been working this year."

Watson wasn't beating himself up too much, recognizing that his game is in good shape and he's had a couple of good performances since winning his second green jacket, which was also his sixth PGA Tour victory.

But opportunities such as this come along rarely. Watson moved to third in the world rankings behind Scott and Henrik Stenson and ahead of Tiger Woods. Watson also posted his seventh top-10, tying a career high. And yet, a victory would have put him in another league.

Same for Scott, who was looking to become the first player since Rory McIlroy in 2012 to win back-to-back tournaments on the PGA Tour (Scott did it in Australia in November). He was tied for the lead after making a birdie at the 11th hole, then found the water at the par-3 12th and made three straight bogeys starting at the 14th.

At the 15th, his approach hit the flagstick and spun off the green. He likely would have had a good birdie chance to get back into contention. Instead he made a bogey.

Scott was going to remain No. 1 regardless, but a second straight victory heading into the U.S. Open would have been a huge boost.

"I'm playing good, I know that," Scott said. "I'm not going to try and go searching for answers over this one. The 12th hole and the 14th hole are the two mistakes I felt I made out there. And they demand the highest quality of shot under that kind of pressure ... and I just didn't execute on those shots.

"It gives me something to work on. But I'm pretty disappointed because I played so beautifully the first nine, 10, 11 holes."

It was a strange day, with all manner of wayward shots and occurrences. But perhaps it will be remembered for something else if Matsuyama goes on to the greatness predicted.

Nicklaus, 74, who typically presides over the winner's news conference, had done his homework on his latest champion, and recalled watching him last year at the Presidents Cup.

And instead of lamenting some of the mishaps he witnessed Sunday, the Golden Bear praised the winner, predicting even better things ahead.

"I think you've just seen the start of what's going to be truly one of your world's great players over the next 10 to 15 years," Nicklaus said.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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