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Matsuyama wins first men’s golf major for Japan

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Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates on the 18th green after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia.

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

Hideki Matsuyama overcame a nervous start and pressure-related back nine stutter to become the first Japanese player to win a men’s major with a one-shot win at the 85th Masters.

His four-bar overnight lead was quickly reduced to one when he spun the first and Will Zalatoris started with a pair of birdies, but Matsuyama restored his composure and looked like a nine-hole procession than he did with six-hole and six-hole led to play.

But Xander Schauffele then made a birdie from the 12th to the 15th, while Matsuyama made a big mistake with his second to the 15th by airmailing the green with his adrenaline-pumping second and finding the water over his back, what to a bogey six that had his lead carved down to just two.

However, Schauffele then took an aggressive line up to the short 16th and came up a fraction short, his ball kicked left, missed the bunker and found the lake, easing the pressure on the longtime leader as he threw a safe tee shot at the right side of the green, although he then got three puttings from the top step.

Schauffele made his initial mistake worse by walking across the back of the green with his third, and it took him three more to come down. He drove up a triple bogey six that put an end to his Masters hopes for another year while Matsuyama tried to regroup after falling to 11 under with Zalatoris in the clubhouse to nine under par.

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The leader stabilized with a rock hard par on the 17th, pounding a perfect run on the last before causing more dismay as he blocked his cautious approach to the bunker to the right of the green.

But he smiled every moments later after splashing to six feet, and the lack of par putt didn’t matter when he tap-in for one 10 years after his first visit to the Butler Cabin as the leading amateur in the Butler Cabin 2011 Masters left a significant victory.

All expectations of rolling to victory were dashed in the opening hole when Matsuyama carved a fairway wood path to the right and started with a five shortly after Zalatoris made a birdie in the second from the front bunker to close within one .

But the American was wrong next time, and Matsuyama responded with a four of his own the second time, and he was content to improve the pars when his rivals fell one by one and Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Marc Leishman couldn’t keep up Score by Jon Rahm, who drove 66 laps to close to six under.

Matsuyama continued to advance in eighth and ninth places with birdies to clear the turn five times, although he would not survive Amen Corner unscathed when he dropped his second shot of the day on the 12th to put him in 13th place despite a to get back wild impetus and a drawn second that threatened to vanish into the azaleas.

The 29-year-old threw it tightly and made the putt to come back to 13 amid Schauffele’s brave attack that abruptly stalled three holes away from home.

Matsuyama’s three-putt was quickly forgotten with one of the most valuable parts of his career on the penultimate hole and a bad shot had no bearing on the result when he became the second Asian man to join YE Yang for a major title.

His 71 was just enough to put Zalatoris (70) in second place, while a deflated Schauffele parried 17 and 18 to sign for a 72, which left him in second place with 2015 champion Spieth who closed was way back to score a significant challenge after playing the first eight holes in two over.

Speaking through a translator, Matsuyama said, “I’m really happy. My nerves didn’t start on the second nine, it was from the start and through to the last putt.

“I’ve been thinking about my family all the time today and I’m really glad I played well for them.

“Hopefully I will be a pioneer in this area and many other Japanese will follow and I am happy to hopefully open the floodgates and many more will follow me.”

Spieth rallied with a birdie at nine and a back nine 33 to close around seven and get his fifth top three result in eight Masters appearances. Rahms glowing finish put him in the top five alongside Leishman.

Long-time leader Rose’s hopes of getting into the mix were dashed when he pierced three of the first five holes. The two-time runner-up worked on a 74 to drop to five, one ahead of 2018 champion Patrick Reed and Canadian Corey Conners.

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Robert Dunfee