On Sunday, Hideki Matsuyama won the 2021 Masters Championship at the world-famous Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. His score of 10 wins was below average for the week – one free shot from the rest of the field. The deciding point for Matsuyama was the third round on Saturday, when he scored seven goals below the 65 level and went from draw to sixth place to top with four shots. The final round on Sunday tested the mettle of the 29-year-old, seeing time and time again that a four-shot lead shrunk to just one hit. But he never lost the lead, and he handled some extreme adversity with the grace necessary to end a win at GolfThe most famous tournament. In the process, he became the first Asian-born man to win a master’s in the championship’s 85-year history.
Each masters creates memories, but some years are more memorable than others. Matsuyama’s victory in Augusta should stand the test of time as one of the tournament’s most exciting outcomes, due to the way Matsuyama played and how he got there. Here’s a closer look at his historic victory.
Matsuyama deserved to win a major tournament
Matsuyama has been one of the best professional golfers in the world for a decade. He made his world debut at the Masters in 2011: when he was only 19 years old, he ranked first among amateurs in this field. His scores of less than one that week were only good for a tie for 27th overall, but in his debut at Masters, Matsuyama showed he had the talent to be an important player for the next generation. It won five times on the PGA Tour between 2014 and 2017 and reached number two in the official world golf rankings. He had a chance to be the best golfer in the world.
Then Matsuyama’s advance was halted. He didn’t win a tournament from 2018 to 2020, and finished each of those years out of the top 20 in the world. Along the way, he had a few impending mistakes in the major leagues. He drove during the final round of the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, but broke his last nine holes and finished in a fifth-place tie – a year after finishing a tie at fourth place in the same event.
With winning the Masters title this year, Matsuyama has proven he’s not just a skilled player – he can win major tournaments, too.
Behind him was an entire country
If you attend enough big tournaments in person, you will notice something strange. Tiger Woods is always following the largest crowd of reporters and photographers. The next might be Phil Mickelson, or maybe Jordan Speth or Rory McIlroy. After these stars, it is often the largest crowd that follows Matsuyama as he orbits his 18 holes.
Matsuyama attracts a large number of followers on the tournament as he is very popular in his home country of Japan. His success was a source of pride for Japan’s golf fans and non-fans alike, and he even became something like his homeland’s ambassador: In 2017, he accompanied Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Golf tour with President Donald Trump.
Matsuyama is now the nation’s first major winner in the men’s game. Two Japanese women have already won the major championships: Hisako Higuchi in the 1977 LPGA and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 British Open. Matsuyama’s victory also ended a massive two-week run for Japan in the Augusta National: 17-year-old Tsubasa Kagitani won the Augusta National Amateur Championship at the weekend The week before the start of the Masters Tournament.
Matsuyama’s victory breaks old stories about what it takes to win a major
There are two old clichés about competing in the major tournaments. First, there is the notion that majors are being identified more on putting green than anywhere else; In other words, the key to victory is to get rid of enough icy hits to outrun the competition. Second, there is the notion that the majors are dropping to a “hard finish”, as if the last round on Sunday is more significant than the other days.
Matsuyama’s victory contradicts these two ideas. Matsuyama entered 170th week on this year’s PGA Tour in Strokes gained while laying, An advanced statistic that measures the number of hits a player gains or loses on the field by how well his shot is. He does well in Augusta but hasn’t quite shredded the greens. Instead, he hit the tee and iron shots well and put himself in a position where he did not need to be a hero as soon as he got close to the hole.
His victory was also not due to any notable success in the Final Round. Matsuyama built his lead on Saturday and spent the Sunday clinging to it with difficulty. He nearly lost it definitively when Xander Shavili made four consecutive birds out of the holes from 12 to 15. In the last of these holes, Matsuyama hit a ball into the water, giving Shavili the opportunity to tie or advance the next round of the gap.
Instead, Shavili made a triple ghost on that hole. Matsuyama made a ghost himself but got two shots on Shavili, eventually winning with a shot over second-placed Will Zalatores. (Shavili and Jordan Speth tied for third, three shots behind Matsuyama. Speth had also made a triple ghost earlier in the week.)
And this is perhaps the greatest lesson of all in Matsuyama’s victory: He didn’t do it by being perfect. He did this by avoiding gross mistakes that others could not make.
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