Hideki Matsuyama becomes Japan’s first men’s major winner in 85th Masters

He almost paid the price for being too bold at times, but it was mission accomplished in the end for Hideki Matsuyama as the 29-year-old won the 85th Masters to become Japan’s first men’s major winner.

Hideki Matsuyama celebrates after receiving the Green Jacket after winning the 85th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Picture: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images.
Hideki Matsuyama celebrates after receiving the Green Jacket after winning the 85th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Picture: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images.

Four ahead at the start of the final round, a shaky start for Matsuyama coupled with a hot one for American Will Zalatoris saw that cushion quickly whittled down to just one at Augusta National.

But, after soon hitting his stride, having catapulted himself to the top of the leaderboard on the back of a brilliant 65 on Saturday, Matsuyama had one arm in the Green Jacket as he came out of Amen Corner with a commanding six-shot lead.

He’d got lucky when taking on a shot he didn’t have to at the par-5 13th, making the most of that break as his second went perilously close to being buried deep in azaleas to record a birdie.

He was riding his luck, though, when deciding to go for the 15th, the other par 5 on the back, in two as well, overshooting the green on this occasion and finding the water.

It was a good 6 in the end, but, with playing partner Xander Schauffele making a birdie there - it was almost an eagle out of the sand - Matsuyama’s lead was suddenly down to just two shots.

Schauffele had his tail up only to blow his chance by finding water off the 16th tee and taking a triple-boey 6 there, meaning a three-putt bogey for Matsuyama wasn’t as costly as it might have been.

The leader also dropped a short at the last but, in closing with a 73 for a 10-under-par 278 total, he won by a shot from Zalatoris (70), with Schauffele (70) and 2015 winner Jordan Spieth (70) two shots further back in joint-third.

Spaniard Jon Rahm signed off with a best-of-the-day 66 to secure a share of sixth spot alongside Australian Marc Leishman (73), with Justin Rose next on five-under after a 75 - 10 shots more than his sensational opening effort.

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“I’m really happy,” said Matsuyama, who had recorded five top-six finishes in majors, including second place in the 2017 US Open, before making his big breakthrough at the 33rd attempt. “My nerves really didn't start on the second nine. It was right from the start today. Right to the very last putt.”

Matsuyama, a two-time WGC winner, is just the second Asian player after South Korea’s Y.E. Yang, who landed the 2009 US PGA Championship at Hazeltine, to triumph in a men’s major.

Two Japanese women have won majors, Hisako Higuchi in the 1977 LPGA Championship and ‘Smiling Cinderella’ Hinako Shibuno in the 2019 AIG Women’s British Open.

“Hopefully I'll be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese will follow,” said Matsuyama of his historic feat in the men’s game. “I'm glad to be able to open the floodgates hopefully, and many more will follow me.”

He was the seventh player to win a Green Jacket after also being the low amateur in the event, as Matsuyama was in 2011, joining Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Cary Middlecoff, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.

His victory also completed a Japanese double after 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur eight days earlier.

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