Japan's Hideki Matsuyama is presented with the green jacket by Dustin Johnson of the US after winning The Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, US, on April 11 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama is presented with the green jacket by Dustin Johnson of the US after winning The Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, US, on April 11 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST

Augusta — After riding out a four-hour swirl of emotions to finally secure history on 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, 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 one-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 second at nine-under after shooting a two-under 70 on Sunday. Xander Schauffele (72), who faltered late, finished in a third-place tie with 2015 champion Jordan Spieth (70) at seven-under.

“Hopefully I will be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese [players] will follow,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter as he was about to receive his green jacket inside Butler Cabin from 2020 champion Dustin Johnson.

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, to don the most famous blazer in sport.

“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 win sparked a joyous reaction back home as the country celebrated another sporting triumph in testing times. 

Government and Olympics officials were full of praise with the Tokyo Games just three months away. Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s top government spokesperson, expressed “congratulations and respect from the heart” for Matsuyama’s “historic” win, which came as another ray of hope during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is another bright piece of news of a Japanese athlete’s outstanding performance on the global stage under tough circumstances like training,” Kato said.

Kato pointed to tennis player Naomi Osaka’s win at the Australian Open and Shohei Ohtani’s outstanding performance both as a hitter and a batter this week in Major League Baseball as further evidence of Japan’s sporting success.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called Matsuyama’s win “wonderful” and a source of pride and courage for the Japanese people during the difficulties posed by the pandemic.

Schauffele moved into contention on the back nine, going from seven shots off the lead to two back entering the par-three 16th hole, but a triple-bogey six, after a tee shot into the water, ended his chances.

Matsuyama’s lead first was threatened early in his round on Sunday when he bogeyed the first hole, while Zalatoris had birdies at numbers 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 at numbers  8 and 9 and was looking unbeatable when he had a par at numbers 10 and 11. With the pressure mounting from Schauffele on the back nine, Matsuyama had bogeys at numbers 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 2017.

Justin Rose, who led after each of the first two rounds, finished alone in seventh place at five-under.

Reuters

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