Matsuyama secures historic Masters win for Japan

It wasn’t pretty but Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama did enough for a one shot victory over rookie Will Zalatoris to become the first Japanese men’s player ever to win a major, let alone the Masters.

With the weight of a nation firmly on the 29-year-old’s shoulders, Matsuyama remained calm under pressure and aside from finding the water after flying the 15th green, he can be proud of his 1-over 73.

Hideki Matsuyama Hideki Matsuyama celebrates Japan’s first men’s major win (Credit: PGA Tour)

“It’s thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today. Hopefully in five, ten years, when they get a little older, hopefully some of them will be competing on the world stage,” said Matsuyama, who just a decade ago was the first Japanese amateur to play in the Masters and claimed low amateur honours that year with a share of 27th place.

“I hope it [my win] will affect golf in Japan in a good way. Up until now, we haven’t had a Major Champion in Japan, and maybe a lot of golfers or younger golfers, too, thought, well, maybe that’s an impossibility. But with me doing it, hopefully that will set an example for them that it is possible and that, if they set their mind to it, they can do it, too.”

Japan, of course, has produced many world-class players including the likes of Jumbo and Joe Ozaki, Isao Aoki, Tommy Nakajima and more recently Shingo Katayama that have led the way on the PGA Tour, however none have been able to get across the line at a major.

Isao Aoki finished runner-up at the 1980 U.S. Open behind Jack Nicklaus, after sharing the overnight lead with the Golden Bear. And ironically it was Matsuyama, who previously shared the equal best Japanese finish with his second place behind Brooks Koepka at the 2017 US Open.

Japan’s love of golf is legendary and Matsuyama’s win will see him take on god-like status in a country that worships celebrity more than most. Financially it’s been suggested his win could be worth anything from $600 million to a billion dollars in endorsements across his career.

Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele shared third place at 7-under trading birdies with bogeys for rounds of 70 and 72 respectively.

Schauffele looked well in contention just two strokes behind Matsuyama after coming off his fourth consecutive birdie at the 15th hole. However a wet ball at the par-3 16th led to Schauffele’s first ever triple-bogey in a major.

Despite Matsuyama’s bogey, the pair walked to the 17th tee now separated by four strokes and the attention turned to Zalatoris, who was playing in the group ahead and who had birdied the 17th to narrow the gap to an uncomfortable two strokes.

Both players were able to par the 17th while Zalatoris ahead on the 18th rescued his tee shot out of the bunker and a wayward second shot to the right of the green with a miraculous 18 foot putt for par and a 2-under round of 70.

Matsuyama stood on the 18th knowing that he needed a bogey at worst to win the title and it turns out that’s exactly where he ended up after his second shot ended up in the greenside bunker. He was able to get the ball to within 5 feet but missed his par putt before sinking a one-footer for a life-changing victory.

While Japan will be celebrating, 24-year-old Will Zalatoris can be just as proud. The Californian, playing in just his third major and his first Masters, has proved to everyone that he has the game to compete at the very highest level.

“To be in a situation, I’ve been dreaming about it for 20 years. I thought I did a really good job this week of just enjoying the moment, but not letting it get to me. I think I kind of let everything soak in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then back to work on Thursday,” said Zalatoris, who won the TPC Colorado Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour in July last year before earning Special Temporary Member status for the PGA Tour in November.

“So it was an absolute treat, and obviously to come up one short and be disappointed is motivating but obviously very exciting.”

Marc Leishman lead the way for the Australians birdieing the 13th and 16th holes on the way home to secure 5th place alongside Jon Rahm, who raced up the leaderboard with a final round 6-under 66.

2020 runner-up Cameron Smith finished next best in equal 13th with a 2-under 70.

Matt Jones (T26), Adam Scott (54) rounded out the Aussies to make it through to the weekend.

Back in its traditional April time-slot for the first time since 2019, the 2021 Masters reminded us all of just what it takes to win at Augusta National. Just ask Xander Schauffele.