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Matsuyama holds off Schauffele to win historic Masters title

·4-min read
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama looks at a putt on the sixth green during Sunday's final round of the 85th Masters

Hideki Matsuyama won the 85th Masters in dramatic fashion on Sunday, holding off Xander Schauffele down the back nine to become the first Japanese man to capture a major golf title.

Carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, Matsuyama calmly grinded out clutch pars and struck for crucial birdies in a pressure-packed march at Augusta National, hanging on over the final holes for a historic one-stroke victory.

Matsuyama took the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy, a top prize of $2.07 million (1.74 million euros) and a place for the ages in Japanese sports history.

After seeing his seven-stroke lead with seven holes remaining shaved to two shots with three to go, Matsuyama watched Schauffele find water off the 16th tee on the way to a triple-bogey disaster.

Matsuyama settled for bogey but closed with par at 17 and a bogey at 18 to fire a one-over-par 73 and finish 72 holes on 10-under 278.

American Will Zalatoris was second in his Masters debut on 279 after a closing 70 with US three-time major winner Jordan Spieth and American Schauffele sharing third on 281.

Matsuyama became only the second Asian man to win a major title after South Korea's Yang Yong-eun at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Matsuyama, ranked 25th, hadn't won since the 2017 WGC Akron tournament, but 87 starts later, he matched the victory from his only other 54-hole outright PGA lead, at the 2016 WGC Shanghai tournament.

The best prior majors by Japanese men were Isao Aoki's runner-up effort at the 1980 US Open and Matsuyama's share of second at the 2017 US Open.

No prior Japanese player had finished better than fourth at the Masters.

Japan's two previous major golf titles belonged to women, Chako Higuchi from the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women's British Open.

- Tense start -

The tension of the moment was on display at the start, Matsuyama hitting his first tee shot well right into trees on the way to a bogey. He shook it off at the par-5 second, blasting out of a greenside bunker and tapping in for birdie.

Matsuyama saved par at the fifth on a 20-foot putt and used a deft touch with short irons to set up birdies. He missed a three-foot birdie putt at the seventh but responded by making three footers to birdie the par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth and reach 13-under, leading by seven strokes with seven holes remaining.

Matsuyama made bogey at the par-3 12th and hit a tree off the tee at the par-5 13th but recovered for birdie as Schauffele made his move.

Schauffele had back-to-back bogeys ahead of a double bogey at the fifth, but answered with birdies at seven and eight and reeled off four birdies in a row starting at the 12th.

Tension grew as Matsuyama found the water over the green at the par-5 15th and made bogey while Schauffele had a tap-in birdie to pull within two shots with three holes to play.

But Schauffele's tee shot met a watery fate at the par-3 16th and he made triple bogey, his first in any major after 1,041 prior holes.

Matsuyama, 29, held his nerve. He made his second bogey in a row but was four clear of Schauffele and two ahead of clubhouse leader Zalatoris.

After a par at 17, Matsuyama needed only a bogey at the last for the victory. He found a greenside bunker at 18 and blasted out to six feet, sent his par putt inches past the cup, then tapped in for bogey and the triumph his golf-loving homeland had awaited for so long.

- Rivals fall back -

One by one, Matsuyama's rivals fell back, early stumbles leaving their rallies too little and far too late.

Zalatoris, trying to be the first player to win the Masters in his debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, was second at the turn but bogeys at 10 and 12 dropped him back.

Spieth, trying to become only the third player since 1960 to win the week before and take the Masters, had three bogeys in the first six holes and not even four back-nine birdies could lift him into contention.

England's Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, had three bogeys in the first five holes and fired a 74 to finish seventh on 283, one back of Spain's third-ranked Jon Rahm and Australia's Marc Leishman.