12 Apr 2021 | Professional golf |

Leish fades as Hideki makes Masters history

by Martin Blake

Hideki Matsuyama Masters winner image
A wave to the crowd as Hideki Matsuyama holes out to win the Masters. Photo: Getty

Marc Leishman saw his Masters hopes evaporate early in the final round as Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama strode to a famous victory and a green jacket at Augusta National today.

Leishman, the Australian who began the final day in the second-last group, had a disappointing few hours. Four back at seven under par, he needed to keep bogeys off his card and he also needed some help from Matsuyama. He got neither.

Three dropped shots in the first seven holes put paid to his chances, and he limped in with a one-over par 73, his high point being his tee shot at the par-three 16th which almost funnelled into the hole.

Ultimately Leishman finished tied-fifth, the third top-10 of his career at Augusta, while Cameron Smith finished strongly to grab a T10 result and another top 10 in the Masters, his third in four years.

Meanwhile Matsuyama did exactly what he needed to do with a four-shot buffer, shooting a final-round 73 to win by a shot at 10 under par from 24-year-old American Will Zalatoris. Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth tied for third at nine under par.

Not that it was necessarily a walk in the park for the Japanese player ranked 25th in the world. He was challenged by Americans Zalatoris on the front nine and Schauffele on the back side.

Zalatoris was within two when he holed a birdie putt from just inside three metres at the second hole.

But Matsuyama bombed a par-saver from five metres at the fifth, then a gorgeous chip set up birdie at the eighth. At nine, the Japanese superstar hit a superb iron shot that trickled down under the flag and he made the putt.

Suddenly, his lead was five again as he headed to the back nine.

Matsuyama had his moments from the time his poor tee shot at the first led to an opening bogey. At 12, he dropped a shot from the back bunker. At the 15th, his nuclear four iron second shot bounced hard and ran into the water behind the green.

This was Schauffele's moment. A birdie from the right bunker pulled him within two shots of Matsuyama as they went to the 16th tee. But Schauffele, usually so calm in the heat, tripled the par-three 16th after his eight iron shot found the water.

Now, Matsuyama only had to par his way in and even then, the profoundly-impressive Zalatoris had holed a par putt from more than five metres at the last to post nine-under, two shy of where the Japanese player sat.

At 17, Matsuyama hit the green and two-putted, conservatively so. At 18, still holding a two-shot lead, he pummeled his drive and then from the right trap, made a bogey that left him a shot ahead after posting a 73.

He becomes the first Japanese player to win the Masters and the first male Japanese player to win any major. Two Australians in the top 10 was a good result for the week. Smith's 70 included a monumental, curling birdie at the par-five 13th. Again, he has shown his love of Augusta National, where he was T5 in 2018 and joint runner-up behind Dustin Johnson last year.

Matt Jones closed with a 72 to finish 26th, but was disappointed. “I just didn't putt very well at all the whole week," said Jones, who was playing for the second time at Augusta. "I mean, I probably couldn't have got anything less out of every round than I did. I mean, it was great to play four rounds, but I definitely think I should have been a lot better than where I am.”

Adam Scott was out of the picture after a poor third round, and he closed with a 73 to finish 54th at 11 over par.

Leishman began with a realistic chance, but he bogeyed the first after pulling his approach left, then after picking up a shot with a nice wedge in close at the par-five second, his wedge approach at the third went off the back of the green and he gave back another shot.

It was an indication of what was to come.

At the seventh he was short of the green in regulation and made bogey. At 11 came the first real indication of frustration: a flared tee shot into the pine trees and an audible groan, with the slightest of thumps as the driver banged down into the turf afterwards. Another bogey ensued.

He would hit just six fairways for the day. Certainly it was the 29-year-old Matsuyama's day. He came to Augusta for the first time in 2011 and was the leading amateur.

As a young professional he reached a No. 2 world four years ago but his progress stalled, and this was his first win since 2017. In the meantime, he hired a swing coach, Hidenori Mezawa, and ironically has tried to remove the distinctive top-of-backswing pause from his game. Certainly his fame in Japan has scarcely receded, and it will not now.

"He's a bit like a Tiger Woods to the rest of the world, Hideki in Japan," said Adam Scott, who has played a lot with Matsuyama.

Now, he is a legend in his own right.

Result

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