The long wait for an Asian championship winner ended with a nerve-wracking ending on Sunday when Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrated the victory that will delight a golf-obsessed nation.
“After that, he’ll light the Olympic flame,” Sir Nick Faldo said on US television, and a starring role in the Tokyo Games this summer will certainly prove the least.
Matsuyama caused palpitations at home before he sealed a historic success in one fell swoop.
Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters in 2021 after surviving a nervous end at Augusta National
The 29-year-old from Ehime on the other side of the country in the capital looked like he was going to win as he climbed to the 15th tee with a four-shot lead.
A terrible approach to the water behind the green, however, resulted in unexpected late drama when his playing partner Xander Schauffele notched his fifth birdie in nine holes to close within two strokes.
Just as an unlikely victory must have occurred to Schauffele, the 27-year-old choked his tee shot into the water on the 16th. What a time to deliver your first triple bogey 1,040 holes in majors.
Matsuyama finished under on the 10th, becoming the first Japanese player to win the green jacket
Japan’s brand new local hero celebrates on the 18th green after sealing his triumph
Matsuyama, who had his second bogey in a row on the 16th, was even able to afford another one and still achieve the victory that will completely change his life. He finished with a 73.
The fully deserved triumph ended a streak of eleven straight wins in American majors for the host country, dating back to Sergio Garcia’s win in 2017. The big consolation was the appearance of another likely superstar in 24-year-old Will Zalatoris, who made a great Augusta debut and delivered four rounds under par to take a worthy second place.
Matsuyama emerged as the man who was likely the first Japanese man to win a major a decade ago when he finished the leading amateur at the Masters. Now he’s joined a select group including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Garcia who claimed the jacket themselves.
His win completed a notable double for Japanese golf after Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship that preceded Masters week.
Dustin Johnson is pictured putting the sacred green jacket on Matsuyama in the setting sun
Even though Matsuyama had missed his target wildly on his first run, he kept his lead up front
Matsuyama held his composure to finish on a 73 and finally got another bogey
For the third straight year, Justin Rose couldn’t replicate the excitement created by his opening 65 when he finished in 7th place.
In the context that this was his first event in a month after a back injury and a few lean years of falling from Np 1 to 41st in the world, this was a huge improvement. But for the 40-year-old, time moves on and this is another chance to claim the jacket that wasn’t taken.
Rose had started the finals as one of four players who, thanks to some short-game heroics, had finished second on Saturday night. His opening holes on Sunday indicated that he had used his odds by missing two short putts early on. He finished with a 74.
Nothing illustrated the tremendous expectation that Matsuyama had on his shoulders as much as the inaugural drive to begin his final round of Fate.
An 18-hole 4-shot lead sounds so comfortable until you hit the first tee, knowing that at home a golf-obsessed nation woke up early and hold your breath.
Fearless rookie Will Zalatoris finished second after playing 17th birdie and saving on the final par
Justin Rose couldn’t repeat the excitement of opening 65 and finished seventh
Before him, Zalatoris had opened with two straight birdies to cut the deficit in half immediately. Matsuyama, who hit every shot over an incredible distance on the back nine on Saturday to take command, missed his target so far to the right that he was lucky enough to have any chance of recovery at all.
However, a bogey at the difficult opening hole was just as tough as on the first nine. A birdie on the second calmed him down and after that it was practically flawless for the rest of the outer half. Perhaps it was all too easy as his late mistakes gave hope to others before he came to.
Masters rookie Zalatoris was the only member of the runner-up foursome to start well.
The last debutant to win the Masters also happened to be the last top golfer whose last name began with the last letter of the alphabet in 1979 – Fuzzy Zoeller. With the golden, curly-haired appearance of a young Bernhard Langer, Zalatoris showed his wild ball with a strikingly remarkable effect.
Like Langer back then, when he has a weakness, it’s on the greens, but it’s not much of one.
The hype train around Bryson DeChambeau was derailed after several mistakes in the final lap
Jon Rahm became the leading European but never seemed ready to threaten the pacemaker
Spaniard Jon Rahm shot a final round of 66 after all the pent-up frustration of three consecutive level par rounds to finish as the leading European. It was a good performance for the 26-year-old, but he never threatened the pacemaker.
Further down the pecking order, there are plenty of shrewd judges who believe Tyrrell Hatton will win majors in the future, and maybe the 68 he shot on Sunday prove the day he finally took a step in the right direction .
Will there be more Sundays at the Masters for Ian Poulter? If this was his last lap, getting off the stage wasn’t a bad way as he closed on a 70.
At 17, Poulter was perhaps the only person on the planet with a handicap of five who had ever thought he would make it to Augusta. This was his 16th appearance, and he’s finished in the top 35 in 13 of them, missing the half cut only once.
Ian Poulter finished the finals on a 70 which wouldn’t be a bad way to leave the stage
Matsuyama caused heart palpitations in Japan before he sealed a historic success in one fell swoop
Outside of the top 60 in the world, he has to get back in the top 50 for another Augusta waltz by the end of the season.
Poulter has an appetite and play and has been in worse scratches and struggled. But he’s 45 now and there are clearly no certainties.
When Chako Higuchi became the first great female champion from Japan in 1977, she gave her a ticker-tape parade.
Now they have a Masters champion and there may not be enough ticker tape to satisfy the joy that will simply be limitless.