Matsuyama, a husband and father, enters playoffs No. 1 in FedEx

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OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia made off-the-course news in 2017 as each headed down the aisle into holy matrimony. So did another world-class golfer. We just didn’t know it.

World No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, one of his country’s most revered athletes, revealed in the hours after his tough finish at the PGA Championship that he got married in January. Not only that, he and his wife have welcomed their first child, a baby girl.

“Big, big news at home,” said Sonoko Funakoshi, a Japanese freelance writer who has covered Matsuyama and the PGA Tour for years. “Nobody outside of his team knew. Nobody.”

Why didn’t we know this? Simple, Matsuyama says. We never asked.

“As far as the family and privacy,” Matsuyama said at the Northern Trust, the opener to the 2017 FedEx Cup Playoffs, “no one really asked me if I was married, so I didn’t have to answer that question. But I felt that after the PGA would be a good time, because our baby is born and I thought that would be a good time to let everyone know.”

So now we know. Matsuyama married a woman slightly younger than him that he has known since high school; he didn’t divulge the name of his daughter. Apparently, marriage agrees with him. Matsuyama, 25, is having his best season, having won three PGA Tour events, including a pair of World Golf Championships events (HSBC and Bridgestone, where he closed with 61).

Louis Oosthuizen, a Presidents Cup teammate, says that when Matsuyama is on, his iron play is comparable to that of Tiger Woods in his prime. At Woods’ Hero World Challenge last December, Oosthuizen knew on Friday that he was playing with the tournament winner, and he was right.

“You know, he gets in such a zone that nothing really puts him off,” Oosthuizen said. “He gets really into a mode where he can get unstoppable. He’s just a great player.”

A big playoff run or FedEx Cup victory would thrust Matsuyama alongside Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth and into the conversation for player of the year.

“I think it’s between four guys, in my opinion,” Spieth said on Wednesday, adding Dustin Johnson (three victories) into the mix.

Matsuyama walked off the golf course after nine holes of his pro-am round on Wednesday at Glen Oaks, citing pain in his hips, but it appeared to only be a precautionary move so that he’ll be ready to go Thursday. He is expected to tee it up in the day’s marquee pairing with Thomas and Spieth at 8:26 a.m.

Matsuyama enters the playoffs as the top-seeded player (Thomas and Spieth are Nos. 2 and 3), and he is determined to turn a very good season into a great one.

“I never I would be sitting here with all of you as the leader of the FedEx Cup at this point of the season,” he said through an interpreter. “But it has been a really good season, great season for me. But it really just begins now because unless I play well in the next four events, I’m not going to be the FedEx Cup champion. This is the time that all of us really need to up our games because you need to win one of those tournaments to even have a chance.”

Matsuyama got locked in a duel with Thomas at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow two weeks ago, but he struggled down the stretch, making five bogeys on his final nine, and faded into a tie for fifth. Earlier in the summer, he tied for second at the U.S. Open. He said on Tuesday that his finish at the PGA will stay with him, and hurt him most. Afterward, after an interview on Japanese television, he buried his head in his hands and cried.

“I think it will be such a massive thing for him to be the first Japanese player to win a major that sometimes, you know, without you knowing, you’re thinking a little ahead of that, and that can happen (a tough finish),” said Oosthuizen, the PGA runner-up.

“Whether that was the situation with him, I don’t know. He’s young. He’s going to have so many more opportunities to be able to win a major, and I definitely think he’ll win more than one, anyway.”

For Matsuyama, the best way to get beyond Quail Hollow is to play well in his four playoff events, and then help lead the International team into the Presidents Cup.

“I did play well at the PGA,” Matsuyama said. “I had a chance. Unfortunately, Justin Thomas played better than I did, and it was a bitter defeat for me. I was really hoping and praying and doing my best to win the PGA. But hopefully I can take that experience, what I learned there, to play better in majors to come, and hopefully someday, that first major will show itself.”

For now, he’ll focus on what’s in front on him, knowing that he and that shiny FedEx Cup trophy would make for a good marriage in itself.

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