Matsuyama in final group at halfway point of Olympic golf

Sports

Hideki Matsuyama of Japan walks on 10th hole during the second round of the men’s golf event at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Friday, July 30, 2021, at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Japan. (AP Photo/Matt York)

KAWAGOE, Japan (AP) — Coping with high expectations at home and low energy from his COVID-19 recovery, Hideki Matsuyama stayed on pace in his bid to add a gold medal in golf to his Masters green jacket.

Matsuyama holed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole Saturday morning and saved par from just off the 18th green to complete a 7-under 64 in the rain-delayed second round of the men’s golf competition.

That left him two shots behind Xander Schauffele, the 27-year-old American whose grandparents still live in Japan. Between them is Carlos Ortiz of Mexico.

They are in the final group for the third round of Kasumigaseki Country Club, with the Japanese star at the center of attention.

“My feeling is not that great, but I am coming into the weekend with a good condition,” Matsuyama said. “So I would like to do my best.”

These could have been the best of times in so many ways. Matsuyama’s victory at Augusta National in April took interest in golf to another level in a country that already had a big passion for the sport. But there are no spectators allowed for these pandemic-delayed Olympics, and Kasumigaseki is largely empty.

Matsuyama did not come into this event in the best form. Along with pedestrian results since he won the Masters, he had a positive COVID-19 test a month ago, didn’t practice for some 10 days and this is first time playing he weekend since the U.S. Open.

He worried as much about his stamina of walking 72 holes on a rain-soaked course. Thunderstorms have suspended play each of the last two days, and the second round could not be completed until Saturday morning.

Schauffele birdied his last three holes Friday afternoon — the final putt he made was just minutes before the horn sounded to stop play again because of more lightning — for a 63 to tie the Olympic record in a sport that returned to the program in 2016.

He was at 11-under 131, one shot ahead of Ortiz (67) and Matsuyama.

Ten players were separated by four shots going into the third round, a group that included the Irish duo of Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry.

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