By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama declared himself fit to defend his Masters title but the Champions Dinner menu remained a big question mark on Tuesday.
Neck and back issues have disrupted Matsuyama’s Masters preparations and the 30-year-old conceded that the last few weeks have been a struggle.
Matsuyama got the season off to a flying start with wins at the Zozo Championship and Sony Open but was forced out of the Players Championships in March due to a back problem and last week’s Valero Texas Open with a neck injury.
“It’s been a great year with wins at ZOZO and Sony,” said Matsuyama, with the help of a translator. “The last couple of weeks, though, have been a struggle.
“Hopefully, I can find my game and be a worthy defending champion.”
Even without fitness concerns, the challenge facing Matsuyama when play gets underway on Thursday is a daunting one.
No player has won the Masters in consecutive years since Tiger Woods in 2001-02 and prior to that only Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) have pulled off the Augusta double.
The neck issues are the more worrying, the flare-up at the Valero Texas Open a return of the injury he first sustained in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March.
“I had a lot of treatment last week,” said Matsuyama, the first Japanese man to win a major championship with his one-shot victory at last year’s Masters.
“I just came from the practice range and really felt good. It’s probably the best I felt in a long time. So I’m looking forward to Thursday, and hopefully I’ll be 100% by then.”
While Matsuyama was willing to share details about his injuries he offered no hint about what he has planned for the Champions dinner he is set to host at Augusta National on Tuesday when past winners gather.
The champion gets to choose the menu and usually it contains something from the winner’s home country.
Australian Adam Scott served up Moreton Bay bugs (lobster) while Canadian Mike Weir’s menu included elk and Arctic char.
“I’m really looking forward to the Champions dinner tonight,” said Matsuyama. “The menu is…Augusta National is going to help make that announcement later on.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Augusta, Editing by Ed Osmond)