FOUR YEARS since he last raised a trophy and in his 10th appearance at the Masters, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama moved into position for his first major title with a late charge Saturday at Augusta National.
In fact, no native of Japan has ever won a men’s major tournament, with Matsuyama in position to be the first with a four-shot lead at 11-under 205 heading into Sunday’s final round at Augusta, Georgia. His 7-under-par 65 was the best round of the day by three shots.
England’s Justin Rose, the leader after the first two rounds, was in a group of four in second place at 7 under after shooting an even-par 72.
Xander Schauffele (68), Will Zalatoris (71), and Australia’s Marc Leishman (70) also were at 7 under and in position to make a charge if Matsuyama falters.
Another shot back at 6 under and in sixth place was Canada’s Corey Conners (68), who had a hole-in-one at No. 6 in the third round. Alone in seventh at 5 under was 2015 champion Jordan Spieth, who had to scramble for an even-par 72.
A five-time winner on the PGA Tour and a 14-time winner worldwide, Matsuyama has not finished on top since 2017. In the third round of the first major of 2021, though, he hardly looked like somebody who forgot what it takes to win.
“It’s going to be a new experience for me, being a leader going into the final round in a major,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter during the CBS broadcast. “I guess, all I can do is to just relax the best I can tonight, prepare well and just do my best (on Sunday).”
The 29-year-old Matsuyama once was low amateur at the Masters, in 2011, so his familiarity with Augusta’s challenges is rich. His best finish was fifth place in 2015.
After maneuvering through the course’s menacing opening six holes at even par, Matsuyama recorded his first birdie at the par-4 seventh hole with a 5-foot birdie putt. He was at 5 under for the tournament when he made the turn to the back nine.
After returning from the 77-minute weather delay, his back-nine charge started at No. 11 with a birdie. He followed that with another birdie at No. 12 to move to 7 under and into a tie for the lead with Rose. The stakes were raised just a few holes later.
Seconds after Rose moved into sole possession of the lead at 8 under with a 27-foot birdie putt at No. 12, Matsuyama answered with a 6-foot eagle putt at the par-5 15th hole to move to 9 under. Not content with that statement, Matsuyama then made birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 to reach 11 under.
What inspired Matsuyama during the delay?
“I spent the hour just sitting in my car, looking at my cell phone,” he said.
After making statements of his own on the back nine during the first two rounds, Rose did not have enough answers on Saturday. Rose was 6 under on the back nine on Thursday and 3 under Friday, but finished even par over his final nine holes. — Reuters