Apr 12th, 2021
Matsuyama makes history at Augusta
The first Japanese man to claim a major title
Words: GolfPunk Photography: Getty Images
Matsuyama has promised great things for years and when he tapped in for his one-shot victory, he finally delivered and in the process, made history as the first Japanese male major winner.
"I thought about my country and my family all the way around," Matsuyama said.
"My nerves really didn't start on the second nine - they were there right from the start, right to the very last putt. Hopefully, I'll be a pioneer in this for many other Japanese. I'm glad to be able to open the floodgates and many more will follow."
For most of the final round, it looked like a foregone conclusion. Matsuyama was looking unflappable and was launching the ball long and straight off the tee. No one in the pack seemed able to find their game and with seven holes to play, Matsuyama led by six shots.
But the back nine at Augusta on Sunday at the Masters rarely fails to deliver surprises and once again, strange things started to happen. Chinks in the armour began to appear for the man from Japan and playing partner Xander Schauffele suddenly woke up.
Schauffele who had started dreadfully on Sunday, with two bogies and a double in his first five holes, started a run of four consecutive birdies from the 12th tee. The American moved from six back to within two shots of Matsuyama as the pair walked to the 16th tee.
Matsuyama was complicit in piling the pressure on himself when he inexplicably took on a risky second shot at the treacherous 15th hole. Pumped up with adrenalin Matsuyama's ball sailed over the green, hit the downslope and careered into the water beyond the green.
Thoughts of Van der Velde came to mind but fortunately, there was no wading into the water from the man from Japan. He took his drop, sensibly chipped up just short of the green and then got up and down to limit the damage to a bogey 6.
What happened next was more surprising than the Matsuyama's exploits at the 15th. Schauffele, who had his foot on Matsuyama's neck, had a chance to apply pressure if he could pop it close at the short 16th.
After much deliberation, Xander selected his weapon and took aim. The ball headed straight at the pin but the world number six had misclubbed and as the crowd looked on aghast the ball hit the bank short of the green and rolled back into the water.
Stunned by the enormity of what he had done, Schauffele then proceeded to overshoot the green with his third shot over the water. A card wrecking triple bogey was the result and brought the man from California's run at his first major title to a catastrophic end.
Matsuyama, who could not believe what was happening with his playing partner bailed out way right, leaving himself a treacherous downhill putt from a distance. Given what was going on, a three-putt seemed a foregone conclusion.
Matsuyama missed his par putt but was still led by two from Masters debutant Will Zalatoris. It had looked like Zalatoris had blown his chances around amen corner when he leaked two shots but he was suddenly back in the mix after birdies at the 15th and 17th holes.
Having signed for his two-under-par round of 70, Zalatoris headed to the practice ground. Given what had happened in the past hour, it was a smart move by the young man.
However, Matsuyama was not going to let himself or his country down. Having secured his par at the 17th he boomed his drive long and straight up the last. A nervous second shot found the greenside bunker and you could cut the tension with a knife.
Hideki kept his calm, splashing out to some ten feet; he had two putts for the win. Not surprisingly, both putts were required with the man from Japan leaving himself a tap in to secure the Green Jacket!
Jordan Speith, who surprisingly never got going until late on, finished in a tie for third alongside Schauffele.
John Rahm launched himself up the leaderboard with a great round of 66 to finish tied fifth alongside Australian Marc Leishman.
England's Justine Rose could not get anything going on Sunday and his putter was stone cold. Rose who had led at the halfway mark, stumbled to a two-over 74 and sole ownership of seventh.
Robert MacIntrye capped off a great week by birdying the last hole to grab himself a share of twelfth on two-under-par and with it an automatic invite to the 2022 Masters.