Matsuyama hopeful for Masters despite stiff neck

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Defending Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama is still dealing with a stiff neck but hopes to be ready to play by Thursday’s first round at Augusta National Golf Club.

Matsuyama, who last year became the first Japanese man to win a major championship with his 1-shot victory at the Masters, has been dealing with neck and back injuries over the last several weeks. He withdrew from the Players in March and again from last week’s Valero Texas Open.

Matsuyama, the 12th-ranked player in the world, said he was initially hurt in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March.

“Since then it’s been a struggle,” Matsuyama said Tuesday through an interpreter. “I had a lot of treatment last week, though, at the Valero Texas Open. [Last] Monday and Tuesday, I was pain-free, feeling really good. Then I woke up Wednesday morning, and the neck was stiff again.

“But I’ve had a lot of treatment the last couple of days. I just came from the practice range and really felt good. It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long time. So I’m looking forward to Thursday, and hopefully I’ll be 100 percent by then.”

Matsuyama said he hasn’t been able to take a full swing in a while because of the injuries.

“But I feel like the treatment I’ve been receiving is helping,” Matsuyama said. “I’m on the road to full recovery. I still have [Tuesday] and tomorrow, and I think by Thursday I’ll be ready to play my best hopefully.”

Matsuyama will host the traditional Champions Dinner at Augusta National on Tuesday night. His menu includes assorted sushi, chicken skewers, miso-glazed black cod, Wagyu ribeyes and Japanese strawberry shortcake.

Matsuyama said the highlight of the last year was being recognized as the defending Masters champion at tournaments. He said he didn’t wear his green jacket very often and wishes he had worn it more. He considered having it dry cleaned but never did.

“I thought about it and it needed to be cleaned, but I just was so worried that something might happen to it,” Matsuyama said. “So I didn’t want to let it out of my sight.”

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