Hideki Matsuyama put together two brilliant closing rounds at the Augusta National to win the 2021 Masters.
The Japanese golfer finished ahead of Will Zalatoris in second to claim his first major. He shot a final round 73 to finish with a score of 10 under par, one shot ahead of the American runner-up.
The 29-year-old was bunched amongst his competitors before an hour-long weather delay on Saturday before he catapulted himself into the lead in the third round with some scintillating golf.
In the all important fourth round on Sunday, Matsuyama held off early tests from Zalatoris and a late push from Xander Schauffele, in which both players found the water, before guiding himself to victory.
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In winning the famous golf tournament, Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win a golf major and ended an almost four-year winless drought.
As is tradition, last year’s winner Dustin Johnson – who failed to make the cut this year after suffering his own struggles – presented Matsuyama with his Green Jacket which etched him into Masters and golfing folklore.
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Sitting alongside Johnson and his translator in Butler Cabin, where champions receive their Green Jackets, Matsuyama expressed his happiness that he could blaze a trail for other future Japanese golfers.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “My nerves really didn’t start on the second nine. It was right from the start today and right to the very last putt. I was thinking about (my family) all the way round today and I’m really happy I played well for them. Hopefully I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese people will follow. I’m glad to be able to open the flood gates hopefully and many more will follow me.”
The path to victory
Justin Rose’s brilliant opening round stole the headlines on Thursday – but Matsuyama was just a few shots behind.
Friday was a tough day with the winds swirling and the greens fast, but on Saturday, the Japanese golfer put his pedal to the metal.
With Rose stuttering, inclement weather forced play to be stopped for about an hour, after which Matsuyama hit his straps.
In the final eight holes, he hit four birdies, an eagle and no bogeys to storm into a four-shot lead with just 18 holes remaining.
Zalatoris, the youngster who impressed in his debut Masters, briefly reduced the deficit to one shot before Matsuyama found his groove from Saturday, birdying the eighth and ninth to extend his lead.
Although his lead was at one point six, some battling golf from American Schauffele reduced the gap to just four. And the lead further reduced after a dramatic 15th hole where Matsuyama’s second shot found the water.
His bogey and Schauffele’s birdie reduced the gap between the top two to just two shots with three holes remaining.
But with the pressure riding on his shoulders, Schauffele found the water on the par-three 16th, eventually finishing with a triple-bogey, effectively ending his hopes of a maiden major victory.
And in the final two holes, Matsuyama showed poise and composure – besides a rogue iron shot into a bunker on the 18th that had nerves jangling – that belied his major experience to hold off the challenge and make history.
For 24-year-old debutant Zalatoris, it was almost the dream four days, coming within a shot of history. He was attempting to become the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win in his Masters debut.
“I have no idea how I’m feeling, I am speechless,” he said in his post-round press conference. “To come one shot short is motivating but for it to come at the Masters where I have been coming since I was nine years old is exciting. I will come back next year and hopefully go one better.”
Matsuyama’s previous best was at the US Open in 2017
Matsuyama, who was No. 25 in golf’s world rankings, wasn’t one of the typical names being suggested as a potential Masters winner. After all, he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since August of 2017.
His previous best at a major came at the US Open in 2017, when he tied second behind Brooks Koepka.
While Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win a golf major, two of his female counterparts have already recorded that achievement.
Hinako Shibuno won the Women’s British Open in 2019 while Chako Higuchi won at the 1977 LPGA Championship.
Matsuyama’s victory on Sunday completes an extremely successful few weeks for Japan and its golf players at Augusta.
Eight days ago, Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
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Five-time Masters champion Tiger Woods congratulated Matsuyama on his momentous achievement.
“Making Japan proud Hideki,” he said on Twitter. “Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country. This historical Masters win will impact the entire golf world.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also congratulated Hideki Matsuyama, calling his win “wonderful.”
“With the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, he’s given courage and inspiration to all Japanese people,” Suga said in a statement Monday local time.
“He has become the first Japanese person to win the Masters and first to win a major championship. He is the first one in Japan and also in whole Asia. I think it’s amazing.”
CNN’s Mai Nishiyama contributed to this report.