Hideki Matsuyama becomes first male Japanese player to win a major at the Masters

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Mercer Baggs
·4 min read
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Hideki Matsuyama became the first male player from Japan to win a major championship, claiming the Masters Tournament on Sunday. Here’s how the final round played out at Augusta National Golf Club:

Leaderboard: Matsuyama (-10), Will Zalatoris (-9), Xander Schauffele (-7), Jordan Spieth (-7), Jon Rahm (-6), Marc Leishman (-6), Justin Rose (-5)

What it means: We don’t really know. Matsuyama doesn’t really know. But both he and everyone who follows golf knows this was a life-changing event. For a golf-mad country like Japan, to have a Masters champion, as Matsuyama’s former Presidents Cup captain Ernie Els said Sunday morning, “I wouldn’t imagine what’s going to happen to poor Hideki.”

This is Matsuyama’s sixth career PGA Tour win and, of course, his first major title. The 29-year-old, who many describe as shy and reserved in his private life, has spent his professional life under the scrutiny of Japanese media. What he’ll enjoy and endure as a result of this victory could be both a blessing and a curse.

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How it happened: This was over. Over after nine holes on Sunday. All of those who started the day tied for second place, four shots back of Matsuyama, had faded. Matsuyama was now five shots clear of the field. But then he bogeyed the 12th and Schauffele made birdie. Schauffele also birdied the 13th, 14th and 15th holes. Matsuyama’s lead was just two with three to play.

And then Schauffele, shockingly, inexplicably, hit his tee shot into the water on the par-3 16th.

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There were few times Matsuyama was pressured by the field on Sunday. Rose (74) and Marc Leishman (73), both of whom started at 7 under, played themselves immediately out of contention.

The fourth member of the overnight T-2 gang, Will Zalatoris, put up an early fight with back-to-back birdies to open his final round. He got within one shot when Matsuyama found trouble at the first and was two back after a birdie at the eighth. But Matsuyama birdied Nos. 8 and 9, while Zalatoris bogeyed the 10th.

There was a sliver of hope for the 24-year-old when he saved par at the last. He was in the house at 9 under with Matsuyama at 11 under and still two holes to play. But Matsuyama finished par-bogey for a one-shot triumph.

Golf world hails Matsuyama after historic win

Round(s) of the day: Rahm. After three rounds of even-par 72, Rahm shot 6-under 66 on Sunday. After starting the day at T-21, he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama didn’t go as low as Rahm, but his performance was more impressive. Shouldering a world – at least a country – of pressure, he never relinquished the lead. It was just a 1-over 73, but it was all he needed.

And lest we overlook Zalatoris. With only special temporary status on Tour and playing in his first Masters – and in legit contention on Sunday – he shot an under-par round (70), finished in solo second and earned a trip back to Augusta National in 2022.

Shot of the day: The most defining shot of this Masters will not be one hit by the champion, but the one hit by Schauffele on No. 16. However, this one by Matsuyama at the 13th, which matched Schauffele's birdie, was pretty nifty.

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Biggest disappointment, Part I: Schauffele. With a chance to win at the start of the round, he went bogey-bogey-double bogey on Nos. 3-5. With a shot at eagle to close the gap on the par-5 13th, he missed from 10 feet and halved the hole with Matsuyama. After a two-shot swing at the 15th, he did what he did at the 16th. He made seven birdies on Sunday and shot even par.

Biggest disappointment, Part II: Rose. So much was on the line for Rose – a second major, a guaranteed spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame, a lifetime reservation to the Champions Dinner. But, like so many others, he wilted quickly with bogeys at Nos. 1, 3 and 5. He made six bogeys and four birdies to finish seventh.

Quote of the day: "Hopefully I'll be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese will follow." – Matsuyama through an interpreter