Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates on the 18th green after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia.
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images
Hideki Matsuyama overcame a nervy start and a pressure-induced back-nine stutter to become the first Japanese player to win a men’s major with a one-shot victory at the 85th Masters
His overnight four-stroke lead was quickly reduced to one when he bogeyed the first and Will Zalatoris started with a pair of birdies, but Matsuyama restored his composure and looked set for a back-nine procession when he led by six with seven holes to play.
But Xander Schauffele then made four straight birdies from the 12th while Matsuyama made a huge error with his second to the 15th, airmailing the green with his adrenaline-fueled second and finding the water over the back, leading to a bogey-six which had his lead whittled down to just two.
However, Schauffele then took an aggressive line to the short 16th and came up a fraction short, his ball kicking left, missing the bunker and finding the lake, easing the pressure on the long-time leader as he knocked a safe tee shot to the right side of the green, although he then three-putted from the top tier.
Schauffele compounded his initial error by going over the back of the green with his third and he needed three more to get down, running up a triple-bogey six which ended his Masters hopes for another year, while Matsuyama looked to regroup having slipped to 11 under with Zalatoris in the clubhouse on nine under par.
The leader steadied himself with a rock-solid par at the 17th, hammered a perfect drive up the last before causing himself more consternation when he blocked his tentative approach into the bunker to the right of the green.
But he was all smiles moments later after splashing out to six feet, and missing the par putt mattered little as he left a tap-in for a momentous win, 10 years on from his first visit to the Butler Cabin as the leading amateur in the 2011 Masters.
Any expectations of coasting to victory were quashed as early as the opening hole, when Matsuyama carved a fairway-wood way right and started with a five, just after Zalatoris had made birdie at the second from the front bunker to close within one.
But the American erred at the next and Matsuyama replied with a four of his own at the second, and he was content to grind out the pars as his rivals fell away one by one, with Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Marc Leishman unable to match the scoring of Jon Rahm, who raced round in 66 to close on six under.
Matsuyama pulled further ahead with birdies at the eighth and ninth to go five clear at the turn, although he would not get through Amen Corner unscathed as he dropped his second shot of the day at the 12th, only to get it back at 13th despite a wild drive and a pulled second that threatened to disappear into the Azaleas.
The 29-year-old pitched it close and made the putt to get back to 13 under in the midst of Schauffele’s valiant charge, which came to an abrupt halt three holes from home.
Matsuyama’s three-putt was quickly forgotten with one of the most valuable pars of his career at the penultimate hole, and one poor shot at the last did not affect the outcome as he joined YE Yang as the second Asian man to collect a major title.
His 71 was just enough to pip Zalatoris (70) into second place, while a deflated Schauffele parred 17 and 18 to sign for a 72 which left him in a share of second with 2015 champion Spieth, who was too far back to make a significant challenge after playing the first eight holes in two over.
Speaking through a translator, Matsuyama said: “I’m really happy. My nerves didn’t start on the second nine, it was right from the start and right to the very last putt.
“I was thinking about my family all the way round today and I’m really happy that I played well for them.
“Hopefully I’ll be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese will follow and I’m glad to be able to open the floodgates hopefully and many more will follow me.”
Spieth did rally with a birdie at nine and a back-nine 33 to close on seven under and earn his fifth top-three finish in eight Masters appearances, with Rahm’s red-hot finish propelling him into the top five alongside Leishman.
Long-time leader Rose’s hopes of getting into the mix were scuppered when he bogeyed three of the first five holes, the two-time runner-up labouring to a 74 to drop to five under, one ahead of 2018 champion Patrick Reed and Canada’s Corey Conners.