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Matsuyama feels the pressure

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama admitted he is under pressure to replicate the performance that propelled him to WGC-HSBC Champions glory in Shanghai one year ago.

The Japanese golfer opens his defence of "Asia's Major" today alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson of the US and rising Spaniard Jon Rahm.

They are among the headline attractions of a strong field at the US$9.75-million (S$13.3m) event at Sheshan International Golf Club.

Other leading contenders at the event, which is on the US PGA Tour and European Tour, include last year's runner-up Henrik Stenson, Olympic champion Justin Rose and a clutch of current and former Major winners in Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and Brooks Koepka.

Matsuyama, 25, became the first Asian to win a World Golf Championship a year ago and it was the catalyst for a brilliant run that also delivered the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title in August.

"It is different coming back as defending champion," said the world No. 4, who seared his way to victory last year by a comprehensive seven shots from the Swede Stenson and Daniel Berger of the US.

"I don't want to put a lot of pressure or expectation on myself, I just want to let the tournament come to me, like it did last year.

"All I can do is try to play my best and hopefully I will play well."

Among the Chinese who will hope to be in the mix on the final day is Li Haotong, a rising talent who underlined his potential with an eye-catching third-placed finish at the British Open in July.

Matsuyama said that he believes Asian players still have a gap to make up on the top American and European players, with the top three in the world all from the US - Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

He added that the challenge for him now is to stay in the top echelon of world golf.

He said: "That's one of my goals and one of the things that I'm working on now is to be able to stay on top of my game." - AFP