By Rory Carroll
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Hideki Matsuyama on Tuesday admitted his game has fallen off since the start of the year but said his familiarity with Augusta National could boost his chances of being the first Japanese player to win a major championship.
Matsuyama three months ago was the hottest player in the world, with three victories and three second-placings in a sizzling run of six starts globally, seemingly destined to go into the U.S. Masters as one of the favourites.
But the softly spoken 25-year-old kept expectations low during his press conference ahead of Thursday's first round, telling reporters that he has struggled recently with his short game, a key component of success at Augusta.
"Compared to last November and December, my game isn't at that same level right now," he said through an interpreter.
But Matsuyama also said that since the WGC-Match Play in Austin two weeks ago he has seen improvement, so much so that he has returned focus to his long game.
"That's one of the reasons I'm really looking forward to this week, to see how my game stands up," he said.
Another reason for optimism, he said, is his familiarity with the course, where he has top-seven finishes the past two years.
In 2010 he won the Asian amateur championship, a victory that he said was critical to his development as a player and one that earned him a spot in the 2011 Masters.
"Every year I play the course, you learn a little more, especially where not to hit it," he said.
"That's been one of the keys, playing five times before, that I've been able to learn and to understand."
Matsuyama knows he will have plenty of support from his homeland.
"At the Masters, the Japanese golf fans have an opportunity to see more maybe of the world's best, and in that sense, it's a special tournament among all the majors."
(Editing by Andrew Both)