Ten years ago, a man went into the final round of the Masters with a four-shot lead over four players and the chance to write an epic story in golfing lore. He was Rory McIlroy. He shot 80 and didn’t win. Last night, Hideki Matsuyama was in that same situation, seeking to become the first male Japanese golfer to win a major championship. He shot 73, one over par, but nevertheless prevailed by a stroke from tournament debutant Will Zalatoris, whose physique is essentially that of an extra-long tee-peg – and he can still hit the ball forever!
Matsuyama is 29, Zalatoris 24, but whereas the latter was previously pretty much unknown, Matsuyama has been carrying the weight of his country’s golfing expectations for a decade. Obviously a golf tournament needs to be won over 72 holes but the key passage of play for the new champion came on Saturday afternoon after a weather delay. He emerged from the hiatus to play the back nine in six under par, thus gaining him that advantage which he didn’t squander. “He’s just a great player,” said Charl Schwartzel. “He has shown us over the years that when he gets going he is a guy that feeds off confidence.” Schwartzel was the guy in 2011 who ate his way to the title when McIlroy collapsed. That was also the year that Matsuyama first played in the Masters.
Heading into Augusta National this year, the main story line was about Bryson DeChambeau, the current US Open champion and golf’s equivalent of the Six Million Dollar Man, albeit without the bionic implants so far as we know. (Somewhat appropriately in this context, the eponymous character was played by a guy called Lee Majors.) Last year Bryson had come unstuck at Augusta after declaring the course was effectively a par-67 for him, with the four par-fives being comfortably within his range in two shots and the 3rd hole being a driveable par-four. On that basis, his total of 286 meant he finished 18 over (as opposed to two under).
This time he was talking in more modest terms about a personal par of 68 but how he would open up by turning the opening hole into a drive and a flick. In fact his opening round produced just one birdie in a 76. He recovered somewhat on Friday but when all was said and done a birdie at the final hole on Sunday, thanks to a 374-yard drive which took out the dogleg, could not disguise the fact that only six golfers who had completed 72 holes had completed them in more shots than him. Next year perhaps expect him to proclaim he’ll be treating the par-fives as if they’re par-threes?
As for the aforementioned McIlroy, he was for the seventh time trying to become only the sixth man to complete the professional career Grand Slam. It will be the eighth attempt next year. His game apparently lost, hopefully temporarily, in his ill-advised efforts to keep up with the lengths DeChambeau will go to, he missed the cut for the first time at Augusta since 2010 – the last time the Masters was Matsuyama-less.
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