AUGUSTA, GEOGRIA - Hideki Matsuyama won the 85th Masters in dramatic fashion Sunday, holding off Xander Schauffele to become the first Japanese man to capture a major golf title.
Carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, Matsuyama calmly grinded out clutch pars and struck for crucial birdies in a pressure-packed march at Augusta National, hanging on over the final holes for a historic one-stroke victory.
Matsuyama took the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy, a top prize of $2.07 million (1.74 million euros) and a place for the ages in Japanese sports history.
"I'm really happy," he said through a translator. "Hopefully I'll be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese will follow. I'm happy to open the floodgate and many more will follow me."
After seeing his seven-stroke lead with seven holes remaining shaved to two shots with three to go, Matsuyama watched Schauffele’s ball end up in the water off the 16th tee on the way to a triple-bogey disaster.
"I felt like I gave him a little bit of a run and made a little bit of excitement for the tournament until I met a watery grave there," Schauffele said. "I'll be able to sleep tonight. It might be hard but I'll be OK."
Matsuyama settled for a bogey but closed with par at 17 and a bogey at 18 to fire a one-over-par 73 and finish 72 holes on 10-under 278.
"My nerves really didn't start on the second nine," Matsuyama said. "It was from the start today to the very last putt."
American Will Zalatoris was second in his Masters debut on 279 after a closing 70 with U.S. three-time major winner Jordan Spieth and American Schauffele sharing third on 281.
"It was a fun week," Zalatoris said. "I know I can play with the best players in the world."
Matsuyama became only the second Asian man to win a major title after South Korea's Yang Yong-eun at the 2009 PGA Championship.
No prior Japanese player had finished better than fourth at the Masters.
Japan's two previous major golf titles belonged to women, Chako Higuchi from the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women's British Open.
Source: Voice of America