Japan’s Matsuyama chases historic Masters triumph

Published April 12, 2021
HIDEKI Matsuyama of Japan hits out of a bunker during the third round of the Masters.—AP
HIDEKI Matsuyama of Japan hits out of a bunker during the third round of the Masters.—AP

AUGUSTA: Hideki Matsuyama, trying to become the first Japanese man to win a major golf title, held a four-stroke lead as Sunday’s dramatic final round of the 85th Masters began.

Matsuyama stood on 11-under 205 after 54 holes at Augusta National, seizing command with a Masters career-low seven-under par 65 on Saturday, the only bogey-free round of the event.

England’s Justin Rose, Australian Marc Leishman and Americans Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris shared second on 209 with Canada’s Corey Conners on 210 and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth seventh on 211.

Japan’s Chako Higuchi won the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno won the 2019 Women’s British Open but the nearest Japanese men have come to a major win was Isao Aoki’s runner-up effort at the 1980 US Open and Matsuyama’s share of second at the 2017 US Open.

“All I can do is prepare well, try my best, and do the best that I can,” Matsuyama said through a translator.

The only Asian man to win a major title was South Korea’s Yang Yong-eun at the 2009 PGA Championship.

World number 25 Matsuyama hasn’t won since the 2017 WGC Akron tournament, but 87 starts later, he will try to match the triumph from his only other 54-hole outright US PGA lead, at WGC Shanghai in 2016.

Matsuyama’s lead was the same margin as 2020 winner Dustin Johnson enjoyed entering last year’s final round, but also the same size as the lead Rose took after Thursday’s opening round only to squander it.

The typical Sunday set-up at Augusta National offers back-nine scoring opportunities for challengers and a tension-packed risk and reward test like few other courses in the world.

Of the last 30 Masters champions, 25 of them came from the final Sunday pairing, which sees Matsuyama and sixth-ranked Schauffele tee off at 2:40 p.m.

(1840 GMT). The two were playing partners on Saturday as well.

Schauffele has had eight runner-up finishes since last winning in January 2019 at the US PGA Tournament of Champions, including a share of second behind Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters.

Rose, the 2013 US Open champion and a two-time Masters runner-up, is trying to become only the third Englishman to capture the green jacket after three-time winner Nick Faldo and Danny Willett in 2016.

Zalatoris is trying to become the first player to win the Masters in his debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Leishman, whose best major finish was a playoff loss at the 2015 British Open, delivered his best Masters finish by sharing fourth in 2013.

Faldo in 1979 was the most recent player to come from outside the top five in the final round to win.

But Spieth will attempt the feat a week after snapping a four-year win drought with a US PGA triumph at San Antonio.

Since 1960, only US left-hander Phil Mickelson and Scotsman Sandy Lyle have won the Masters and won the prior week as well.

Second-ranked Justin Thomas was 10 strokes adrift. A victory would make him the new world number one but he would have to eclipse the greatest last-day Masters comeback of eight strokes by Jack Burke in 1956.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2021

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