Augusta, April 12
The pressure was even more than Hideki Matsuyama could have imagined when he stood on the first tee at Augusta National. So was the emotion when he walked off the 18th green as the first Masters champion from golf-mad Japan.
His arms securely inside the sleeves of the green jacket, he thrust them in the air.
Ten years after he made a sterling debut as the best amateur at the Masters, the 29-year-old Matsuyama claimed the ultimate prize and took his place in history.
Whether he’s Japan’s greatest player is not his concern. “However, I’m the first to win a Major,” he said. “And if that’s the bar, then I’ve set it.”
Staked to a four-shot lead, the nerves stayed with Matsuyama from the time he hit his opening tee shot into the trees to back-to-back birdies that led to a six-shot lead to a few nervous moments at the end when Xander Schauffele made a late run at him.
Only when he belted his drive down the 18th fairway and twirled the club in his hands could he feel this victory was in hand. He played so well for so long that three bogeys over the last four holes made this Masters look closer than it was. He closed with a 1-over 73 for a one-shot victory over Masters rookie Will Zalatoris (70).
Schauffele ran off four straight birdies to get within two shots with three holes to play, only to hit 8-iron into the water on the par-3 16th for a triple-bogey that ended his hopes. He shot a 72 with a triple-bogey and a double-bogey on his card and tied for third with Jordan Spieth (70).
Matsuyama won for the 15th time worldwide, and it was his sixth PGA Tour title. He had gone 93 tournaments without winning, the longest drought for a Masters champion since 1987. He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a Major. YE Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship. — AP