11 Apr 2021 | Professional golf |

Masters: Leish hunting as Hideki runs hot

by Martin Blake

Hideki Matsuyama Augusta image
Hideki Matsuyama celebrates with his caddie during his 65 at Augusta today. Photo: Getty

Marc Leishman kept himself in contention for a Masters victory at Augusta National today but the focus will fall on Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama tomorrow as he chases a piece of history.

Matsuyama blew the field away with a back nine of 30 today in a round of 65 that put him into a four-shot lead entering the final round, seeking to become the first Japanese man to win a major.

Leishman is tied-second at seven under par, four shots back from the Japanese star’s 11 under. He will play in the second-last group tomorrow with England’s Justin Rose, who also is at seven under after an even-par 72 today.

The 37-year-old Australian shot a two-under par 70 with four birdies, all at the par-fives.

He had some good chances in the run home, narrowly missing for eagle from six metres at 15 and for birdie at 17 and 18, where from five metres his putt ran out of speed and turned just right of the cup.

But without necessarily bringing his best game the man from Warrnambool in Victoria kept himself in the hunt with solid golf and excellent scrambling on a wet day at Augusta.

The world No. 25 Matsuyama had eight holes to play after the hour-long weather delay in the late-afternoon. In that couple of hours, he picked up six shots with scintillating, spectacular golf.

It began with a six-metre birdie at the 11th, then a three-metre birdie at the 12th, a two-putt birdie at the par-five 13th and then his shot of the day – a mid iron to two metres over the water to two metres at the 15th that set up eagle.

Further birdies at 16 and 17 were franked by a brilliant up-and-down from behind the 18th green to save par and post 65, by three shots the round of the day.

Leishman started well with a brilliant, scrambled birdie from the trees at the par-five second, but gave back a shot from the front trap at the seventh, then chipped up close for another birdie at the par-five eighth.

Short of the par-four 10th with his approach, he conceded another shot to par before two good shots at the par-five 13th gave him a birdie, and a soaring mid-iron to the 15th gave him an eagle chance that turned low of the cup.

The Australian made safe pars on the final three holes and will sleep tonight knowing that he will likely need something low tomorrow to win -- unless Matsuyama falters as so many have done taking the lead into a Sunday at Augusta have done.

Leishman was in the same group as Adam Scott when the Queenslander became the first Australian to win the green jacket, ultimately finishing tied-fourth. He was also tied-13th last year.

He has never won a major, although he was in a playoff at the 2015 Open Championship. Cameron Smith is the next-best Australian in a tie for 13th at one under par after a 73 today.

Matt Jones (74) is tied-29th and Adam Scott had a nightmare third round, finding water at the 13th and 15th on his way to a 79.

Matsuyama, 29, has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world and for a while, has been regarded as one of the best players who had not won a major.

He was runner-up in the 2017 US Open and fifth at Augusta in 2015.

"Obviously if Hideki plays well, he can control his own destiny I guess," said Leishman. "But a lot can happen around here. I've seen it. I mean, I played with Scotty (Adam Scott) the year he won. I've ween what can happen. I've had bad rounds here myself and I've had good rounds. You can make up four shots quickly but you have to do things right to do that.

"I've seen what you have to do, I know what you have to do. It's a matter of executing it and doing it."

Two Japanese women have won majors – Hisako Higuchi and Hinako Shibuno – have won majors but no men have managed it.

Tomorrow could be Matsuyama's greatest day. One solid round will do it, but that is not a given at this place. Greg Norman, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth could pass on a few tips about that.

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