History made in Augusta

HIDEKI Matsuyama did just enough to hold on at Augusta, Georgia, becoming the first player from Japan to win a men’s major tournament with a one-shot victory at the Masters. — MASTERS TOURNAMENT FB PAGE

AFTER riding out a four-hour swirl of emotions to finally secure history last Sunday, Hideki Matsuyama lifted his cap and gave a slight bow.

With the hopes of a nation atop his broad shoulders, Matsuyama did just enough to hold on at Augusta, Georgia, becoming the first player from Japan to win a men’s major tournament with a one-shot victory at the Masters.

After heading into the final round with a four-shot lead, the 29-year old picked up his first victory worldwide in four years with a 1-over-par 73 in the final round at Augusta National to finish a steady four days at 10-under 278.

Will Zalatoris, a 24-year-old who is not even a full-time member on the PGA Tour, finished in second place at 9 under after shooting a 2 under 70 on Sunday. Xander Schauffele (72), who faltered late, finished in a third-place tie with 2015 champion Jordan Spieth (70) at 7 under.

“Hopefully, I will be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese [players] will follow,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter on the CBS broadcast as he was about to receive his green jacket inside Butler Cabin from 2020 champion Dustin Johnson. “I’m glad to be able to open the floodgates, hopefully, and many more will be able to follow me.”

His own path on Sunday was bumpy. Matsuyama saw his large early lead trimmed to one. He pushed it back to a commanding six shots early on the back nine then had to ride out a late charge from Schauffele, while hitting a ball into the water at No. 15, in order to don the most famous blazer in sports.

“My nerves didn’t really start on the second nine [holes], it was right from the start today and right to the very last putt,” Matsuyama said.

His victory came 10 years after he first competed at the prestigious event when he finished as the low amateur. His best previous finish at the Masters was a tie for fifth in 2015, while his best previous finish in a major was a runner-up result at the 2017 US Open.

Matsuyama’s lead first was threatened early in his round on Sunday when he bogeyed the first hole, while Zalatoris had birdies at Nos. 1 and 2 to pull within a stroke. The advantage went back to three when Matsuyama had a birdie at No. 2 and Zalatoris had a bogey at the third.

Matsuyama had birdies and Nos. 8 and 9, essentially looking unbeatable when he had a par at Nos. 10 and 11. With the pressure mounting from Schauffele on the back nine, Matsuyama had bogeys at Nos. 12, 15, and 16.

When Schauffele’s late run ended at 16, the San Diego native bit the steel shaft of his club in frustration.

Suddenly leading by two shots over Zalatoris, Matsuyama had a par at 17, put his drive at 18 in the middle of the fairway and made a bogey from the green-side bunker to grab his first major and his first victory of any kind since the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in August of 2017. He became the first international player to win the Masters since Spain’s Sergio Garcia in 2017. — Reuters