Hideki Matsuyama delivered golf-mad Japan the grandest and greenest prize of all.
Ten years after Matsuyama made a sterling debut as the best amateur at Augusta National, he claimed the ultimate trophy Sunday with a victory in the Masters to become the first Japanese winner of the green jacket.
Matsuyama closed with a 1-over 73 and a one-shot victory that was only close at the end, and never seriously in doubt after Xander Schauffele’s late charge ended with a triple bogey on the par-3 16th.
Moments before Dustin Johnson helped him into the green jacket, Matsuyama needed no interpreter in Butler Cabin when he said in English, “I’m really happy.”
So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. With a four-shot lead, he went for the green in two on the par-5 15th and it bounded hard off the back slope and into the pond on the 16th hole.
Matsuyama did well to walk away with bogey, and with Schauffele making a fourth straight birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play.
The next swing all but ended it. Schauffele’s tee shot on the par-3 16th bounced of the hill and dribbled into the pond. His third shot from the drop area went into the gallery. He wound up with a triple-bogey 6.
Never mind that Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes. All that mattered was that uphill walk to the 18th green, needing only to blast out of the bunker and take two putts for the victory.
That’s what he did, a final bogey for a one-shot victory over 24-year-old Masters rookie Will Zalatoris, who closed with a 70 and stayed on the practice range just in case of a playoff.
Matsuyama finished at 10-under 278 for his 15th victory worldwide, and his sixth on the PGA Tour.
He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
Prime minister leads celebrations of Matsuyama’s Masters win
Led by Japan’s prime minister, the country celebrated golfer Hideki Matsuyama’s victory in the Masters _ the first Japanese player to win at Augusta National and pull on the famous green jacket.
“It was really wonderful,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said with his country struggling to pull off the postponed Tokyo Olympics in just over three months. “As the coronavirus drags on, his achievement moved our hearts and gave us courage.”
Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki, who tied for eighth in the Masters in 1973, said he hoped more Japanese male golfers would be inspired by Matsuyama.
“This is a great achievement for the Japanese golf world,” he said in comments on Japanese media. “And it came about because of Mr. Matsuyama’s own ability to take up challenges, his courage and all the effort that went into that.”
Isao Aoki finished second to Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open, the previous best finish by a Japanese male golfer in a major.
Two Japanese women have won golf majors: Chako Higuchi at the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women’s British Open.
Aoki recalled how Matsuyama won the low amateur title in the 2011 Masters just weeks after the earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors devastated the northeastern Fukushima area of Japan.
About 18,000 people died in the disaster and the area is still struggling to recover.
“This time, your Masters win came at a time when many people were feeling down, with many activities restricted in Japan amid a coronavirus pandemic, and you gave hope to so many people,” Aoki said in comments carried online in Japanese in Golf Digest.
Aoki added: “This win, which was the first for a Japanese as well as an Asian, was a moment we were all waiting for, not just myself but all the Japanese golf fans and those involved in the golf world.”
The U.S. Embassy in Japan sent its congratulations to Matsuyama as “the first Japanese golfer to win The Masters.”
Outside busy Shimbashi train station in central Tokyo, retired worker Takashi Atsumi called it a “tremendous result.”
“For him, I think it was a goal that was hard to reach despite his tremendous efforts over the past 10 years,” Atsumi said. “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that he was able to achieve the goal today. I think he set a great milestone for the next generation of Japanese people.”