Hideki Matsuyama led the Masters by four strokes after a brilliant 65 in the third round pushed him to 11-under, and although he didn’t play his best golf in the final round at Augusta National, he had put himself in a position to win his first green jacket and the first major for a Japanese man.
Matsuyama got off to a shaky start, hitting his first tee shot into the right woods for bogey, but bounced back with a safe birdie on the second and then a string of pars before a pair of birdies to close out his front nine on 8 and 9 to give him a five-shot lead heading into the back nine.
After a bogey on the 12th by young Will Zalatoris (aka Happy Gilmore’s caddie), his lead grew to six, but the rest of the way was a grind for Japan’s best golfer. Xander Schauffele, who struggled early in the final pairing with Hideki Matsuyama, caught fire and birdied four consecutive holes, starting with No. 12, to close the gap on Hideki. Matsuyama, on the other hand, held Xander at bay thanks to a shot that may very well be remembered as the shot that won him the tournament, as he demonstrated why he was the best scrambler all week with a sensational chip on the 13th to set up a much-needed birdie after a bogey on the previous hole.
Matsuyama smashed a 4-iron over the green on 15, bounding into the pond on 16, while Schauffele was in the bunker in two just to the right of the green. Hideki was able to save bogey after a safe chip just short of the green and then a two putt from there, while Xander got up and down with a brilliant bunker shot.
Xander pulled out an 8-iron and took aim at the pin with the lead down to two and the momentum obviously on Schauffele’s side, but the shot came up just short, bouncing off the bank and into the water. He would go on to make a triple bogey 6, effectively ending his bid for a green jacket, while Hideki made yet another bogey, allowing Will Zalatoris to close to within two and enter the clubhouse. Matsuyama regained his composure on 17, hitting two flawless shots to leave a safe two-putt for par, giving him a comfortable lead heading into the final hole.
Matsuyama required just a bogey on 18 to win, as he was two strokes ahead of Zalatoris when he found the right greenside bunker after a flawless tee shot. He’d safely cut out to 8 feet, and although his par putt went begging, it was a simple tap in for a final round 73 and a one-stroke victory at the Masters.
It had been a long time coming for Matsuyama, who has been a sensation at Augusta since winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur and earning low-am honors in 2011. Before this, he had two top tens and five top 20s in the last six Masters before breaking through for his first major title at the venue where his career began in the United States. He joins a remarkable list of players who have earned low-am and gone on to win a green jacket in their careers, including Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and, already a megastar in Japan, will become an absolute icon after this win.