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 for his country,” said Spieth, who also talked honestly after his round about the degree of difficulty this major poses for him.
“I feel like my game truly suits the other three majors maybe more than a P.G.A. Championship,” said Spieth, whose only top 10 in this tournament in four previous starts was a second-place finish in 2015. “But I believe we can play anywhere and win anywhere. It’s just a matter of having everything in sync at the right time.”
Matsuyama, who has won six times worldwide in the past 10 months, was out of sync from the moment he reached the top of those 48 steps from the practice green. His opening drive landed in the right rough, and his right arm flew off the club during his follow through. Matsuyama’s streak of 22 holes without a bogey ended on No. 1 when he missed a 6-foot par putt.
“The worries that I had about my swing showed up today in the way I played,” Matsuyama said.
He was in the final grouping with Kisner and Jason Day, who has gotten to know Matsuyama while playing alongside him in two Presidents…