Hideki Matsuyama overcame a nervous start and a pressure-induced back-nine stutter to become the first Japanese player to win a men’s major with a one-time win at the 85th Masters.
His four-stroke lead into the night was soon reduced to one when he bogeyed on the first and Will Zalatoris started off with a few birdies, but Matsuyama recovered his composure and looked ready for a procession from behind as he led six with seven more holes to play.
But Xander Schauffele then made four consecutive birdies from 12th, while Matsuyama made a huge mistake with his second through 15th, airmailing the green with his adrenaline-fuelled second and finding the water over the back, leading to a bogey-six that narrowed his lead to just two.
However, Schauffele then took an aggressive line to the short 16th and came up a fraction short, his ball kicked to the left, missed the bunker and found the lake, relieving the pressure on the old leader as he teeed safely. to the right side of the green, though he then put three from the top level.
Schauffele compounded his initial mistake by taking his third over the back of the green and it took him three more to bottom out, racking up a triple bogey six that ended his Masters hopes for another year , while Matsuyama appeared to be regrouping after slipping to 11 under with Zalatoris in the clubhouse at nine under par.
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The leader held himself steady with a rock solid par on the 17th, hammering a perfect drive to the last before causing more consternation as he blocked his cautious approach to the bunker to the right of the green.
But moments later he was all smiles after splashing out to six feet, and missing the par putt didn’t matter as he left a tap for a memorable win, 10 years after his first visit to the Butler Cabin as the leading amateur in the 2011 Masters.
All hopes of a run to victory were shattered at the opening, when Matsuyama cut a fairway wooden way to the right and started with a five, just after Zalatoris birdied from the front bunker on the second to close within one. .
But the American was wrong on the next and Matsuyama answered with a four of his own on the second, and he was content to grind the pars as his rivals fell one by one, with Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Marc Leishman unable to to match the scoring of Jon Rahm, who drove around in 66 to close at six under.
Matsuyama pulled further forward with birdies on eighth and ninth to go five clear at the turn, though he wouldn’t get through Amen Corner unscathed as he dropped his second shot of the day on the 12th, only to make it back on the 13th. despite a wild drive and a pulled second that threatened to disappear into the Azaleas.
The 29-year-old threw it close and made the putt to come back to 13 under amid Schauffele’s gallant charge, who came to an abrupt halt three holes from home.
Matsuyama’s three-putt was quickly forgotten with one of the most valuable pairs of his career on the penultimate hole, and a bad shot on the latter didn’t affect the outcome as he joined YE Yang as the second Asian man to make a big achieved title.
His 71 was just enough to send Zalatoris (70) into second place, while a deflated Schauffele parried 17 and 18 to sign for a 72, putting him in second place with 2015 champion Spieth, who was too far back to get a significant score. challenge after playing the first eight holes in two overs.
Through a translator, Matsuyama said: “I’m very happy. My nerves didn’t start with the second nine, it was from the start and right up to the very last putt.
“I was thinking about my family all day today and I’m very happy that I played well for them.
“Hopefully I will be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese will follow and I am happy that hopefully I can open the floodgates and that many will follow me.”
Spieth rallied with a birdie at nine and a back-nine 33 to close at seven under and took his fifth top-three finish in eight Masters appearances, with Rahm’s red-hot finish propelled him into the top five alongside Leishman.
Longtime leader Rose’s hopes of getting into the mix were thwarted when he bogeyed three of the first five holes, the two-time runner-up toiled to a 74 before falling back to five under, one for 2018 champion Patrick Reed and Canadian Corey Conners.