Matsuyama, the third-ranked player in the world, was coming off a win six days earlier at a World Golf Championships event in Ohio, where he closed with a 61. On Friday, he had carded a bogey-free 64.
The fans swarming the course were not going to see the American Jordan Spieth complete a career grand slam, but it appeared they still might be witnesses to history.
“I think Hideki, with the way he’s been playing, his misses seem to be birdies right now,” Spieth said after an even-par 71 that left him hopelessly out of range of the leaders. He added: “When you have it going, you have it going. He’s going to be tough to beat.”
Spieth has spent his share of time facing outsize expectations. Yet he acknowledged that he could not relate to what the 25-year-old Matsuyama must be feeling.
“It’s hard for me to speak to the pressure he could feel winning the first major…