HISTORY MAKER MATSUYAMA OF JAPAN WINS MASTERS FOR MAIDEN MAJOR VICTORY

HISTORY MAKER MATSUYAMA OF JAPAN WINS MASTERS FOR MAIDEN MAJOR VICTORY
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Hideki Matsuyama overcame a potentially ruinous moment to become the first Japanese man to win a major championship with a one-shot Masters victory over Will Zalatoris at Augusta National on Sunday (April 11).

Matsuyama, who started the day with a four-shot lead over a quartet that included playing competitor Xander Schauffele and Masters debutant Zalatoris, carded a one-over-par 73 that left him at 11 under on the week at the year’s first major.

“I am really happy. My nerves really didn’t start on the back nine, it was right from the start and right until the very last putt,” Matsuyama said.

“I was thinking about them [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 open the floodgates.”

The 29-year-old Japanese was seemingly in control until a bogey at the par-five 15th, where his approach shot went in the water behind the green, compounded with a birdie from Schauffele turned his four-stroke cushion into a two-shot lead.

But world No. 6 Schauffele put his tee shot at the par-three 16th into the water and made triple-bogey to fall out of contention. He finished three shots back of Matsuyama and in a share of third with former champion Jordan Spieth (70).

“I was thinking about them [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 open the floodgates.”

The 29-year-old Japanese was seemingly in control until a bogey at the par-five 15th, where his approach shot went in the water behind the green, compounded with a birdie from Schauffele turned his four-stroke cushion into a two-shot lead.

But world No. 6 Schauffele put his tee shot at the par-three 16th into the water and made triple-bogey to fall out of contention. He finished three shots back of Matsuyama and in a share of third with former champion Jordan Spieth (70).

“I was coming in hot, I was feeling good,” said Schauffele, who made four consecutive birdies starting at the par-three 12th. “Hideki surprisingly went for the green on 15 so I felt like he gave me a little bit of hope there and maybe (I was) a little hyper-aggressive there on 16.”

Matsuyama bogeyed the 16th which left him with a two-shot lead over Zalatoris (70), who was already in the clubhouse at nine under on the week, and went on to close the deal with a par-bogey finish.

The victory by Matsuyama came in his 33rd major championship appearance and ended Zalatoris’s impressive bid to become the first Masters debutant to win a Green Jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller accomplished the feat in 1979.

Speaking to reporters on Monday morning in Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called Matsuyama’s historic win “wonderful” and a source of pride and courage for the Japanese people during the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He’s also a graduate of a university in Tohoku,” Suga said, referring to the northeastern region of Japan devastated by the massive earthquake and tsunami 10 years ago. “(His win) has also provided a big boost to the recovery from the disasters.”

Matsuyama had made a shaky start with a bogey at the first hole that cut his lead to one stroke but made three birdies before the turn, including at both par-fives, to restore control.

He bogeyed the 12th where he failed to get up and down from a back bunker but tapped in for birdie at the par-five 13th and was looking set for a comfortable finish.

But Matsuyama said he never allowed himself to think the Green Jacket was his until his tee shot at the par-four 18th final hole found the fairway.

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

World No. 3 Jon Rahm, whose wife gave birth to their first child last weekend, carded the day’s low round, a six-under-par 66, vaulting him into a share of fifth place.

“I am really happy. My nerves really didn’t start on the back nine, it was right from the start and right until the very last putt,” he said.

“I was thinking about them [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 open the floodgates.”

-Reuters

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