Ten years after Hideki Matsuyama made his debut as the best amateur at Augusta National, he claimed the ultimate trophy with a victory in the US Masters to become the first Japanese winner of the coveted green jacket, delivering golf-mad Japan the grandest and greenest prize of all.
Matsuyama closed with a 1-over 73 and a one-shot victory that was only close at the end, and never seriously in doubt after Xander Schauffele’s late charge ended with a triple bogey on the par-3 16th.
So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. With a four-shot lead, he went for the green in two on the par-5 15th and it bounded hard off the back slope and into the pond on the 16th hole.
Matsuyama did well to walk away with a bogey, and with Schauffele making a fourth straight birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play.
The next swing all but ended it. Schauffele’s tee shot on the par-3 16th bounced off the hill left of the green and dribbled into the pond. His third shot from the drop area went into the gallery. It added to a triple bogey and his third close call in a major.
Never mind that Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes, the first Masters champion with a final round over par since Trevor Immelman shot 75 in 2008.
All that mattered was that uphill walk to the 18th green, needing only to blast out of the bunker and take two putts for the victory.
And that’s what he did, soaking in the moment with a few thousand spectators on their feet to celebrate a career-changing moment — for the 29-year-old Matsuyama, and he hopes for an entire country.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow,” Matsuyama said.
Will Zalatoris, the 24-year-old Masters rookie, holed an 18-foot par putt on the last hole for a 70 and was runner-up. It was the best performance by a first-timer to the Masters since another Dallas kid, Jordan Spieth, was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson.
Spieth had a few fleeting thoughts of coming from six shots behind except for too many missed putts early and missed opportunities late. He bogeyed his last hole for a 70 and tied for third with Schauffele, who shot a 72 with a triple bogey and a double bogey on his card.
Matsuyama finished at 10-under 278 for his 15th victory worldwide, and his sixth on the PGA Tour.
He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
Returning to the 18th green for the trophy presentation, he again put on the green jacket and raised both arms in triumph. Augusta National allowed limited spectators, believed to be about 8,000 a day, and most might have remembered him from a decade ago.