After Hideki Matsuyama’s shanked tee shot off the first, many feared that this would be yet another final round at Augusta that would dash a golfer’s hopes. A bogey at the first, combined with two birdies from two for second-place Will Zalatoris, meant Matsuyama needed to find inspiration from somewhere, and an ability to keep his cool.
Boy, did he find something. All of a sudden, the Japanese was finding the fairway with every drive, and sinking putts with the kind of composure that marks a champion. Despite a few minor hiccups, and although there was only one stroke separating Matsuyama from Zalatoris in the end, this was about as comfortable a victory as one can hope to achieve at Augusta National.
In becoming the first male Asian player to win the Masters, Matsuyama has earned superstardom in his home country of Japan, the victory could well be the catalyst for more overseas players to achieve success in golf’s biggest events. The way he held himself together despite the weight of a nation on his shoulders was perhaps the most impressive thing about his performance.
Much of this year’s Masters proved to be as much about who didn’t play well, as opposed to who did. Defending champion Dustin Johnson missed the cut, as did Rory McIlroy – both men paying the price for their inability to handle the hard, fast greens on Thursday and Friday. Bryson DeChambeau also cut a forlorn figure, with ‘The Scientist’ yet to figure out the winning formula at Augusta, while Justin Thomas finished tied for 21st.
Of the main pre-tournament favourites in the online golf betting, it was Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm who gave the most credible performances across the four days, the former finishing tied for third on seven-under, and the latter tied for fifth with six-under. This was a Masters which beckoned a new, perhaps unexpected champion, and it was Matsuyama who stepped forward. For a moment it looked as though both Xander Schauffele and debutant Zalatoris were closing the gap, but neither could quite claw back Matsuyama, who appeared to have destiny on his side.
It’s a result that will do much for the game in Japan, but it’s easy to gloss over what a meaningful win this is for Matsuyama on a personal level. For around a decade he has toiled in golf’s majors, dreaming always of landing that victory at last. His best result prior to this had been a tied-for-second finish at the US Open in 2017, but in the last three years he had failed to crack the top 10 in any major championship.
That will make this victory all the sweeter, as it’s the result of endless hard graft and determination. Matsuyama hadn’t won a professional tournament since August 2017, and you can imagine the frustration of giving everything you have to a sport and getting nothing back. But if there was any proof needed that persistency pays off, we’ve seen it at this year’s Masters. Now, Matsuyama joins an elite list of those to wear the famous Green Jacket, and that is something that will stay with him for the rest of his life, regardless of how his career pans out from here.
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