US Masters golf 2021: 'A pioneer' – Masterful Hideki Matsuyama crowned Japan's first major champion
Hideki Matsuyama shot a closing 73 to become Japan's first men's major champion at the 85th US Masters. The world number 25 put the finishing touches to the best week of his eight-year professional career by finishing on 10 under. He started the day on 11 under courtesy of 69, 71 and 65 and did enough to see out the victory despite battling a late wobble with three bogeys on the final four holes.
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan poses with the Masters Trophy during the Green Jacket Ceremony after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on 11 April, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia.
Published 11/04/2021 at 23:33 GMT | Updated 12/04/2021 at 08:08 GMT
Hideki Matsuyama held his nerve after a late wobble to become Japan's first men's major champion at the 85th US Masters with a closing 73 and winning 10 under total of 278, one clear of tournament debutant Will Zalatoris.
Holding a four-stroke overnight lead after a bogey-free 65 at Augusta on Saturday, the world number 25 dropped a shot on the opening hole of the final round, but responded quite magnificently to move back to 13 under heading for the par-five 15th hole following birdies at 2, 8, 9 and 13.
The destination of the year's first major would be settled over two dramatic holes as an erratic Matsuyama decision saw him wallop his second shot to the par five through the green and skip into the water beyond forcing the five-times PGA Tour winner to settle for a bogey six from behind the pin.
His playing partner Xander Schauffele responded courtesy of a fourth straight birdie with an exquisite bunker shot and single putt seeing him make a four and close to 10 under as the nervy leader's advantage was suddenly reduced to only two shots with three to play.
But world number six Schauffele's hopes of being measured for the Green Jacket were quickly snuffed out at the par-three 16th as an aggressive tee shot came up short of the green and tumbled into the water, effectively burying his prospects of a recovery.
While Matsuyama played safe for a bogey four by three putting from high above the pin, Schauffele could do no better than a horrific triple bogey six to drop back to seven under and out of contention.
“I was coming in hot, feeling good,” said Schauffele, who has amassed an incredible eight top-10 finishes from 15 starts in majors. “Hideki surprisingly went for the green on 15 so I felt like he gave me a little bit of hope there.
“I was maybe a little hyper-aggressive there on 16. If I had a lead I would have bailed out right and I think that’s the shot on the hole, I just haven’t hit it enough.
I fought hard. It was a messy start and Hideki was robot-like for 13 holes and didn’t make a mistake. I felt like I gave him a little bit of a run and a little bit of excitement and unfortunately hit it in the drink there.
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan talks with his caddie Shota Hayafuji on the second tee during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on 11 April, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia.
Image credit: Eurosport
Impressive 24-year-old US rookie Zalatoris had already signed for a closing 70 with a brilliant par save on 18, but it was not enough to earn a play-off despite the 2017 US Open runner-up Matsuyama finishing with a bogey five to complete his final four holes in three over.
Matsuyama will be heralded a national hero in his homeland after emulating the success of Chako Higuchi, who won the women's PGA title in South Carolina in 1977.
“I am really happy. My nerves really didn’t start on the back nine it was right from the start today and right until the very last putt," said the 29-year-old, who is the first Asian player to win a major since South Korean Yang Yong-eun lifted the 2009 US PGA Championship.
I was thinking about friends and family all the way around. I am really happy I played well for them. Hopefully, I will be a pioneer and many other Japanese players will follow and I am glad to be open the floodgates.
Schauffele (72) finished in a tie for third place alongside 2015 winner Jordan Spieth, whose closing 70 hints at better times ahead following his Texas Open victory last week.
Spain's Jon Rahm enjoyed a classy 66 to finish on six under after three successive 72s alongside Australian Marc Leishman (73) in fifth spot while Justin Rose, the leader after the first two rounds, slipped to a closing 74 to end a week that promised much more on five under for seventh place.
"I enjoyed the week and it's a bit more evidence that I love playing this golf course and I know how to play it," said Rose. "Weirdly, I felt I played better than I had all week. Just the putter went cold."
-10 H Matsuyama (Jpn)
-9 W Zalatoris (US)
-7 J Spieth (US), X Schauffele (US)
-6 J Rahm (Spa), M Leishman (Aus)
-5 J Rose (Eng)
-4 P Reed (US), C Conners (Can)
For the latest news and sharpest analysis on golf, visit GolfDigest.com