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Green Jacket-ed Matsuyama would relish Olympic flame role

Jim SLATER
·3-min read
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, right, hugs caddie Shota Hayafuji, left, on the 18th green after winning the Masters on Sunday at Augusta National

Hideki Matsuyama looks forward to the reaction in Japan when he brings home the Masters champion green jacket and he would enjoy the idea of lighting the Tokyo Olympic cauldron.

Matsuyama celebrated becoming the first Japanese man to win a major golf title on Sunday when he captured the Masters by one stroke after a back-nine battle at Augusta National.

"I can't imagine what it's going to be like, but what a thrill and honor it'll be for me to take the green jacket back to Japan," Matsuyama said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo of England said Matsuyama should be chosen to light the Tokyo Olympic cauldron next July at the Games opening ceremonies after the historic victory.

"It would be quite an honor," said Matsuyama. "But I'm not sure about my schedule. If the schedules worked out and I'm in Japan when that happens and they ask me, what an honor that would be."

The humble Matsuyama will almost certainly be in Japan as a member of Japan's Olympic golf team. The men's event opens July 29, just days after the Games are set to begin.

"I'm really looking forward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo," he said. "If I'm on the team, and maybe it looks like I will be, I'll do my best to represent my country, and hopefully I'll play well."

Matsuyama did that in Sunday's final round despite a one-over par 73 finishing total.

He said the pressure and nerves of playing for his nation and his own dream of winning the Masters did not strike him until he was on the first tee -- about to strike his first shot.

"I felt really good going to the first tee, until I stood on the first tee, and then it hit me that I'm in the last group of the Masters Tournament and I'm the leader by four strokes," he said.

"And then I was really nervous. But I caught myself."

His first shot went way right into trees and he opened wih a bogey but answered with a birdie at the second and grinded out a solid round before a late charge by Xander Schauffele added some tension to the back nine.

- 'Not thinking anything' -

Matsuyama made bogeys on three of the last four holes but led by enough to claim a one-stroke victory, alhough it took a minute for that to sink in.

"When the final putt went in, I really wasn't thinking of anything," he said. "But then hugging Xander -- but then when I saw my caddie, Shota and hugged him, I was happy for him because this is his first victory on the bag.

"And then it started sinking in, the joy of being a Masters champion."

Part of the thrill, he said, is the idea that he could inspire some youth who become major golf rivals while he is still playing.

"It's thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching," he said. "Hopefully in five, 10 years, when they get a little older, hopefully some of them will be competing on the world stage.

"I still have a lot of years left, so they are going to have to compete against me still. But I'm happy for them because hopefully they will be able to follow in my footsteps."

js/rcw