MELBOURNE, Australia – Japanese ace Hideki Matsuyama has already left his imprint on the World Cup, much to the despair of the course superintendent of host golf club Kingston Heath.
Matsuyama spent so long on the practice putting green in stifling heat on Monday that his footmarks burned the grass in three spots which then had to be temporarily cordoned off.
While few early arrivals even ventured outside in the 35 degrees (95 F) heat, the world No.6 worked undistracted for five hours to perfect his putting technique to prepare for the fast greens that are one of the trademarks of the 7111-yard (6503-meter) par 72 course that's ranked second behind Royal Melbourne in this city's famed sandbelt golf region in the south-east suburbs.
Matsuyama, who has won three of his past four starts, including the recent WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, laughed off the marathon putting lesson, saying: "Those footprints are there because I weigh a lot."
Japan is the pre-event second favorite behind Australian pair Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, with Matsuyama joined by a fit-again Ryo Ishikawa for the teams competition of foursomes on Thursday and Saturday and four-balls on Friday and Sunday.
Ishikawa, sidelined by a lower back injury for six months from February, said the invitation was motivation for his return that has already netted a win in Japan and top 10 finish in Malaysia.
"Hideki is definitely one of the hottest players right now. I'm just coming in here trying to do my best and be able to compete with him because it's definitely a great opportunity here this week," Ishikawa said.
Hot is also an apt description for Sweden's Alex Noren, who will partner 65th ranked David Lingmerth, after victories at the Scottish Open, European Masters, British Masters and, just two weeks ago, the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.
Noren's world rankings trajectory, from as low as 654th after his first tournament of 2015 to checking in at No.9 last week is an astonishing climb.
Noren has the benefit of being an occasional visitor to nearby Huntingdale when it was home of the Australian Masters.
While a Monday night storm and subsequent showers for two days have deadened the greens, Scott predicted that precision rather than power would be the key on the tight, tree-lined layout where the bunkers are cut into the side of the putting surfaces, with no fringes to stop a wayward approach shot.
Ireland's Shane Lowry said he and colleague Graeme McDowell had a "game plan" after the first practice round and have already changed it due to a different wind direction.
"The foursomes will be a tough test and you've got to try to make a score in the four-balls," Lowry said.
McDowell believes the event is "wide open" despite the focus on the Americans Rickie Fowler, whose world ranking is 12, and Jimmy Walker (19), along with the Australian and Japanese pairings. England's Chris Wood (37) and Andy Sullivan (40), Scotland's Russell Knox (18) and Duncan Stewart (315) and Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello (30) and Jon Rahm (125) all look capable of victory.
McDowell was tied eighth when Scott won the 2012 Australian Masters at Kingston Heath. New Zealand's Ryan Fox, tied fourth at last week's Australian Open, was tied 14th in that same tournament. Others with Kingston Heath experience are Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, tied 14th when Tiger Woods won the 2009 Masters title and Germany's Alex Cejka, who shot 76 and 80 to miss the cut that year.
Lower ranked teams with genuine chances include Belgium (Thomas Pieters and Nicolas Colsaerts), Thailand (Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat) and Denmark (Soren Kjeldsen and Thorbjorn Olesen).