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Magical Matsuyama makes Masters history

China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-13 10:20
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Hideki Matsuyama of Japan looks on from the 18th green during the second round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia on April 9, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Tournament's first Asian winner will 'impact entire golf world' says Woods

Hideki Matsuyama created Masters history on Sunday after the Japanese overcame intense pressure and the burden of carrying a nation's hopes to become the first male Asian golfer to triumph at Augusta National.

Leading by four overnight, a final-round 73 was enough to earn Matsuyama a one-stroke victory ahead of American debutant Will Zalatoris (70) and pocket the $2.07 million winner's check.

Matsuyama's 10-under 278 total saw him become only the second male Asian golfer to win a major following Yang Yong-eun's triumph at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Tiger Woods led the congratulations, tweeting that Matsuyama's win would "impact the entire world of golf".

Matsuyama's ascendancy completes a full circle in his stellar career. Ten years ago at Augusta, he first announced his arrival on the global stage by posting the lowest amateur score before watching Phil Mickelson slip the famous green jacket on Charl Schwartzel.

On Sunday Matsuyama was beaming with pride after last year's champion, Dustin Johnson, did the honors for him in Butler Cabin.

The victory, which was Matsuyama's sixth PGA Tour title and his first since August 2017, seemed to be written in the stars-seven days ago, 17-year-old compatriot Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women's Amateur championship.

Matsuyama had previously finished fifth and tied seventh at the Masters in 2015 and 2016 respectively, while his best major outing was a joint runner-up finish at the 2017 US Open.

"I'm really happy," Matsuyama said through his long-time interpreter, Bob Turner. "My nerves really didn't start on the second nine. It was right from the start today and right to the very last putt. Hopefully I'll be a pioneer in this (winning the Masters) and many other Japanese will follow. I'm glad to be able to open the floodgates. Hopefully many more will follow me."

Matsuyama made the turn with a seemingly comfortable five-shot lead, but it soon looked like the pressure was getting to him as he dropped four shots, including three over his closing four holes, on his back nine.

He eventually prevailed after safely two-putting from six feet for a closing bogey. Once the magnitude of his major breakthrough had sunk in, he raised his hands in jubilation and shed tears of joy.

"My plan this morning was to wake up about 9:30. But needless to say, I arose much earlier than that and couldn't go back to sleep. So I came to the golf course early. Had a really good warm-up," said Matsuyama, who is the eighth champion to close with an over-par round.

"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 and I'm the leader by four strokes. And then I was really nervous.

"But I caught myself, and the plan was just go out and do my best for 18 holes. And so that was my thought throughout day, just keep doing my best."

"It's been a struggle recently. This year, no top-10s, haven't even contended," he added. "So I came to Augusta with little or no expectations. But as the week progressed, as I practiced, especially on Wednesday, I felt something again. I found something in my swing. And when that happens, the confidence returns. And so I started the tournament with a lot of confidence."

He is looking forward to returning to his home country to celebrate with his family and friends.

"I can't imagine what it's going to be like, but what a thrill and honor it will be for me to take the green jacket back to Japan. I'm really looking forward to it," said the 29-year-old.

"I hope it will affect golf in Japan in a good way. Not only those who are golfers already, but hopefully the youngsters who are playing golf or thinking about playing golf, I hope they will see this victory and think it's cool and will try to follow in my footsteps.

"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."

Asked if this win will set him apart from other Japanese greats such as Isao Aoki, Jumbo Ozaki and Shigeki Maruyama, Matsuyama replied: "You know, I can't say I'm the greatest. However, I'm the first to win a major, and if that's the bar, then I've set it."

Tiger's tweet

Matsuyama's victory resonated worldwide, with 15-time major winner Woods quick to hail the win.

Woods, who missed the tournament he has won five times as he continues his recovery from a car crash, tweeted: "Making Japan proud Hideki. Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country. This historical @TheMasters win will impact the entire golf world."

Adam Scott, the only Australian to win the Masters, said the new champion can expect "Matsu-mania" in Japan.

"He's a bit like a Tiger Woods to the rest of the world, Hideki in Japan," Scott said. "He has got such a big following every week, no matter how he plays anyway. I think he'd become the superstar of Japan if he isn't already."

A huge media contingent follows Matsuyama, noted three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo.

"It's a fanatical nation for golf. Golf is on the national news," Faldo said. "The weight he's carrying... the intensity is 10 times more than a regular tournament."

South Africa's Ernie Els, a two-time US Open and two-time British Open champion, told Golf Channel the win would be "a cherry on the cake for the whole nation-really unbelievable. It would be incredible. Golf in Japan is such a huge sport".

Mexico's Abraham Ancer also made the Woods comparison, saying: "When I was in Japan for the Zozo (Championship), the people watching him and Tiger. It was like a major," Ancer said. "So for him to get this W, it's huge for Japan.

"I had no idea how big the following was of golf down there, and it was amazing. It will mean the world I'm sure for all the Japanese people."

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