After a lead-grabbing, third-round seven-under-par 65 that tied the first-round-leading 65 of Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama shot a final-round 73 on Sunday.
A Matsuyama meltdown?
When all your foes were likewise struggling—the last round of every major is always pressure-packed that you rarely see a flourish of a finish from anyone—a so-so windup would most likely get the job done.
As did Matsuyama.
In fact, he won the Masters yesterday (Monday PH time), not with a par-shattering, chest-beating round but with a round cute enough to clinch it all.
With his 73, Matsuyama secured a one-shot victory, basking in the luxury of a last-hole bogey when his final approach of the day found the right bunker on 18.
His two-putt bogey from five feet didn’t matter anymore, the limited crowd of some 3,000 giving their approval with a greenside applause befitting a champ twice over at golf’s grandest stage.
In victory, Matsuyama completed a magical journey from being Masters’ amateur champion 10 years ago as a 19-year-old to becoming the 85th Masters champion at 29.
It also proved to be the biggest golf month for Japan as Tsubasa Kajitani won the second Augusta National Women’s Amateur the week before.
Quite a feat, indeed, for golf-crazed Japan as Matsuyama, a Lexus bet, became the first Japanese to win the Masters and the first Asian to do it. He joins South Korean Y.E. Yang, the 2009 PGA champion, as the only Asians to win a major.
Matsuyama’s march to history quickly took form when he built a six-shot lead at the turn by overcoming a first-hole bogey with three birdies for a 34 going out.
Even as Xander Schauffele, runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 2019 Masters, rattled off four straight birdies from No. 12 to inch to within two shots, Matsuyama remained cool as a cat as most Japanese are when danger lurks.
Never mind that Matsuyama, up by four, went carelessly greedy by trying to get aboard in two on the par-5 15th. He found the water. Bogey. Lead down to two over Schauffele with three holes to play.
On the next hole, though—par-3 16th—Matsuyama got an unexpected extra lift from who else but Schauffele himself.
Schauffele made a triple bogey on the 181-yard hole, practically ending it all. His tee shot got wet. He found the gallery on his reload and two-putted when his 40-yard pitch fell short by 15 feet.
And even as Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes, including the 18th, it didn’t matter, anymore.
Up by two with a hole left, he two-putted from five feet for bogey, capping a modest one-shot victory over Will Zalatoris, the 24-year-old rookie from Texas.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow,” said Matsumaya, a man of few words.
Matsuyama won by one, yes, but in any sport, a winning margin is immaterial. A win is a win is a win.