AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hideki Matsuyama’s first swing in the final round of the 85th Masters was an inconspicuous banana-shaped piece that would look familiar on the first shirt on any golf course in the world.
Matsuyama, who entered the fourth round on Sunday with a four-shot lead, didn’t get much sleep on Saturday night, and the walk on Sunday afternoon from the training ground to the golf course was disturbing.
“When I got to the first T-shirt, it hit me,” Matsuyama said. “I was really nervous.”
But Matsuyama chased his undisguised instinct in the left forest and resolutely chose a fearless path, smashing his ball from the smooth pine straw through the thin gap between the two trees. Matsuyama’s kadi, Shota Hayafuji, shouted, “Woo,” which elicited a toothy smile from the typically non-demonstrative Matsuyama.
Although he knocked out the first hole, the tone was set for his day.
A former teenage golf prodigy in Japan who has long been expected to break into the biggest golf scene, Matsuyama, 29, fearlessly accused the intimidating schedule of the Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday to create a commanding advantage. Even with three unsafe shovels in the closing holes, he persevered with a dirty final lap of 73 to win the Masters in 2021 in one go and become the first tournament champion born in Asia.
Matsuyama, who finished 10 below the score in the tournament, is also the first Japanese to win a major golf championship. Will Zalatoris finished in second place, with Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth tied for third place at seven under par.
Matsuyama’s revolutionary victory will make him a national hero in golf-crazy Japan, which has a rich production history of world-class men’s golfers who have been close to winning the grand championship in recent decades but have failed. Two Japanese women have won major golf championships. Matsuyama’s breakthrough comes at a time of unrest over racially-directed violence against Asians and Asian Americans.
The new face of Japanese golf is shy and pursed lips, so much so that when he was married in 2017 and had a child, he hid it from the world of golf for seven months. On Sunday, after receiving a ceremonial green jacket next to the 18th green, Matsuyama stood motionless, hand to side as he was photographed by the news. Offered to look celebratory, he raised both hands above himself and smiled obediently. Encouraged by the triumphant reaction she provoked, Matsuyama spread a smile and slammed his fists into the air twice.
Guided at a press conference, Matsuyama was asked if he was now the greatest golfer in Japanese history.
“I can’t say I’m the greatest,” he replied through an interpreter. “However, I’m the first to win the main subject, and if that’s the right place, then I set it up.”
Matsuyama was more interested in the answer to what effect his victory could have on young Japanese golfers.
“So far we haven’t had a big champion in Japan, maybe a lot of young golfers thought that was impossible,” he said. “I hope this will set an example that it’s possible, and if they get older, they can do it.”
Matsuyama, who had a low score for an amateur at the 2011 Masters, was ranked second in the world four years ago, but suddenly fell. He hadn’t won a tournament since 2017 by Sunday and his ranking dropped to 25th in the world.
But after a brilliant 65 in third round Saturday – he had an eagle and four birds in his last eight holes – Matsuyama entered the final round with a gentle pillow on top of the board. He was stable at the start on Sunday, even after the lupe. On the second he jumped with a birdie, then turned five pairs and scored in the last nine with a comfortable five-stroke lead.
But as often happens on Masters Sunday, strange, unforeseen things arose.
In the fifth hole of the par-5, Matsuyama increased the second shot in the waterway which was located 227 meters from the flag. He said he “washed” four irons, but his golf ball flew off the green and crashed into the water behind the hole. It wasn’t a small wrong move, not even with his playing partner Schauffele saving the birdie his fourth consecutive hole. Matsuyama did not lose composure or perseverance. Performing a penalty kick, he carefully cut to the edge of the green and voted for the ghost.
Schauffele was just two moves behind when the duo stepped on the 16th shirt. Still chasing the leader, Schauffele said he felt he had to go get another birdie, but his aggressive teenage kick was short of greenery and drained into the pond.
Schauffele said that the notorious whirlwinds of Augusta National crossed him twice, the famous double and probably accurate.
“I hit a good shot; it turned out bad, ”said Schauffele, who made a triple specter on the hole. “I’m going to sleep well tonight – maybe I’d throw myself around a bit.”
The turn of events made the Masters beginner Zalatoris the closest pursuer to Matsuyama, especially after Zalatoris made a long pair for the downhill on the 18th hole to finish the final round at nine below, just two moves behind Matsuyama.
With two holes left to play, Matsuyama hit brilliantly in the middle of the 17th waterway, fired a perfect wedge into the middle of the green and scored twice. On the 18th hole he hit another perfect drive, but his approach shot faded and landed in the bunker on the green side to the right of the green. The recovery from the sand stopped six meters from the hole, but twice they still gave him the championship.
The second place went to Zalatoris, who is in his first year of the PGA tour, will significantly improve his profile in the golf community, especially when combined with his result at the 2020 U.S. Open, where he tied in sixth place. Leaving the 18th hole on Sunday, Zalatoris, 24, received a standing ovation from fans who sounded green.
“Absolute dream,” Zalatoris said. “I’ve been dreaming about it for 20 years.” He added: “I think the fact that I’m frustrated that I finished second in my third direction says something. It is obvious that, as a professional, I finished as the sixth and runner-up. I know if I continue to do what I do, I will have really good chances in the future. “
Matsuyama also received a hearty, long standing ovation when he left 18th green on Sunday. When he sank his last shot and victory was assured, Matsuyama, unlike most golfers in that situation, had no visible reactions.
“I really wasn’t thinking anything,” Matsuyama admitted. “Then it started to sink, the joy of being a Masters champion. I can’t imagine what it will be like, but what a thrill and honor it will be to bring the green jacket back to Japan. ”