The Masters: Will Hideki Matsuyama’s Injury Keep Him From Joining an Exclusive Club Featuring Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus?

While the “will he or won’t he?” drama surrounding Tiger Woods’ playing status has enveloped the 2022 Masters Tournament, defending champion Hideki Matsuyama’s health is also a notable storyline.

Matsuyama made history by becoming the first Japanese male to win a major championship last April. He heads to Augusta National next week seeking to become the first back-to-back winner since Woods accomplished the feat with triumphs in 2001 and 2002.

But while Matsuyama is presented with an incredible opportunity, his body isn’t exactly in tip-top shape. That could threaten his chances of making more history.

Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Nick Faldo are the only players to win back-to-back Masters

The Masters is one of the most demanding tests in all of golf. Behind all the glamor of the Azaleas and the picturesque views across the Ben Hogan Bridge is a hilly landscape with fast, complex greens and plenty of undulation.

There’s a reason only three men have captured the Green Jacket in consecutive years.

Nicklaus became the first repeat champion in 1966 after romping to a nine-stroke victory over Arnold Palmer and Gary Player in 1965. Faldo won his first Masters in 1989, then outlasted Raymond Floyd in a playoff the following year.

Augusta was the place where Tiger’s legend began in earnest in 1997. After a three-year drought, he won a second Green Jacket in 2001, finishing off the “Tiger Slam” in the process. One year later, Woods won his third Masters by three strokes after South African Retief Goosen shot a 74 in the final round. No other player has managed to win back-to-back Masters since.

Matsuyama will try to join this exclusive club next week. However, he might not be at peak performance.

An injury threatens Hideki Matsuyama’s chances of joining the club

Hideki Matsuyama already has a pair of victories in the early goings of the 2021-22 PGA season and ranks fourth in the FedEx Cup standings. One might imagine he has a strong chance of contending next week.

Unfortunately for the reigning Masters champion, physical issues could interfere.

Matsuyama has dealt with a back injury over the past few weeks, which forced him out of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass earlier this month. According to ESPN, he also complained about dealing with a muscle strain in his neck and shoulders.

Augusta National’s layout isn’t the most conducive to players beset by injuries. It’s why there’s been an abundance of speculation about Tiger Woods’ ability (or lack thereof) to possibly handle 72 holes of golf.

Plus, Matsuyama relies heavily on ball-striking, and his injuries have limited him to chipping and putting.

That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Matsuyama’s short game won him the 2021 Masters. He got up and down from seemingly everywhere around the green and, per Arccos Golf, finished a respectable 26th in the field in strokes gained putting. A chance to hone the short game during his layoff might pay dividends.

Still, there’s no question that Matsuyama will need to feel comfortable with the driver — he gained an astonishing 1.6 strokes at last year’s Masters despite lacking distance off the tee — and long irons to have success at Augusta. That might prove difficult, given he’s had so few tournament swing reps as of late.

Can the 30-year-old find the right swing groove in time for the 2022 Masters?

Matsuyama must play his way into form to make Masters history

L-R: Hideki Matsuyama celebrates after winning the 2021 Masters Tournament; Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods talk during the 2020 Payne's Valley Cup
Hideki Matsuyama (L), Jack Nicklaus (R, L), and Tiger Woods (R, R) | Left to Right: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images and Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Payne’s Valley Cup

The injuries have hampered Hideki Matsuyama in recent tournaments.

After winning the Sony Open in January, he finished in a tie for 30th at the Farmers Insurance Open. He bounced back with a T8 finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open but never contended at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, slogging to a T39 finish. More of the same followed at Bay Hill, as Matsuyama tied for 20th with a 72-hole score of three over par.

Having withdrawn from the Players Championship, passing on the Valspar Championship, then WD’ing at the Valero Texas Open, Matsuyama has not played a competitive round in about a month.

Matsuyama will have a tough time defending his Masters crown if his body causes swing issues. Scottie Scheffler and other up-and-comers have made big pushes to start the calendar year, and big names such as Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, and more figure to battle it out for the Green Jacket.

Can Matsuyama find the game and the gusto to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Nick Faldo in Masters history? Time will tell.

Stats courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise noted.

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