Hideki Matsuyama surges into Masters lead with back-nine barrage
There is one Japanese player in the 85th Masters Tournament – and he’s pulling away from the elite field.
Hideki Matsuyama shot 6-under-par 30 on the back that was softened by an afternoon thunder shower en route to 7-under-par 65, the day’s best score by three shots, in Saturday’s third round.
Matsuyama, who is seeking to become the first Asian winner of the Masters Tournament, will carry a four-shot lead into Sunday's final round. That is the same lead Dustin Johnson had last year. He went on to win his second major championship, by five shots.
Matsuyama, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour who is in search of his first major championship, is at 11-under 205 after playing his final 8 holes in 6 under Saturday, highlighted by an eagle on No. 15. He leads the field in eagles through 54 holes with three. He also tied for the fewest putts on Saturday, with 25.
Justin Rose, the first- and second-round leader, is among four golfers tied for second place. Rose, who opened with 65, shot his second consecutive 72 and is tied with Xander Schauffele (68 on Saturday), Marc Leishman (70) and Masters rookie Will Zalatoris (71).
Schauffele, who speaks some Japanese and conversed with Matsuyama during their round in that language when they played together Saturday, will be paired together again in Sunday's final group of the day.
“It was really enjoyable,” Matsuyama said of playing with Schauffele. “We didn’t talk much but we exchanged some good Japanese jokes and had some good laughs.”
Matsuyama, the world’s 25th-ranked golfer, has been close before in major championships. He was the runner-up in the 2017 U.S. Open, tied for fifth in the 2016 PGA Championship, was fifth in the 2015 Masters and tied for sixth in the 2013 British Open.
He’s already the only Japanese player to win a World Golf Championship – the 2016 HSBC Champions.
“I’m not sure how to answer the question,” Matsuyama said when asked what it would mean to be the first Japanese to win the Masters. “All I can do is prepare well, try my best and do the best I can tomorrow.”
Augusta National Golf Club has taken on a Japanese flavor in the past week. Japanese teenager Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and now Matsuyama can make it two Japanese winners in a row on Augusta National grounds.
“Hopefully, I can follow in her footsteps and make Japan proud,” Matsuyama said.
Matsuyama caught fire after a 1 hour, 18 minute weather delay Saturday afternoon that softened up the course. When play resumed at 5:15, Matsuyama hit his second shot under some trees on No. 11, leading to a birdie.
He then birdied No. 12, made eagle on No. 15, birdied Nos. 16 and 17 and made a great par save from behind the green on No. 18 to complete the 65.
“Before the horn blew, I didn’t hit a very good drive,” Matsuyama said, referring to No. 11. “After the horn blew for the restart, I hit practically every shot exactly how I wanted to.”
Matsuyama is attempting to become the second Asian to win a major championship. Korea’s Y.E. Yang won the 2009 PGA Championship, turning back Tiger Woods.
The best Masters finish by an Asian was last year when Korea’s Sungjae Im tied for second place. The best finish by a Japanese golfer is fourth place, by Toshi Izawa in 2001 and 2009 by Shingo Katayama.
After the foursome that is four shots behind Matsuyama comes Corey Conners (68), who is five back and Jordan Spieth (72), who trails by six.
Conners, who bounced his tee shot into the hole on No. 6 for hole in one, nearly holed out his second shot on No. 18, a par-4, for an eagle. His shot clanged off the pin after one bounce, but he didn’t make the 14-foot birdie putt.
The final group in Sunday's final round will go off at 2:40 p.m., which the normal Sunday final-round starting time for the final group, but it will be the first time it has happened since 2018.
In 2019 final-round tee times were moved up because of predicted afternoon storms, with the final group going off at 9:20 a.m.
In 2020, the final tee time was 9:29 a.m. because it was played in November.