AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sixteen years in the past virtually to the day, a 13-year-old Japanese boy wakened early one Monday morning to observe the Masters. He liked Tiger Woods — the very first time he’d watched the Masters, Tiger had won — and on this morning, Woods and Chris DiMarco walked to the sixteenth tee separated by a single stroke.
It was about 7:30 in the morning, however the boy watched, amazed, as Woods rolled in one of the great shots of all time, a curling chip that held on the fringe of the cup earlier than dropping in to ground-shaking applause. The boy watched, and cheered, and dreamed of sooner or later taking part in in the Masters himself.
Six years later, his dream got here true. And 10 years after that, the boy — now grown up and main the Masters — stood at the sixteenth himself. The match of his desires was in his fingers, however his lead had immediately change into fragile, his desires in peril of vaporizing.
When Hideki Matsuyama walked off the eleventh inexperienced Sunday, he led the Masters by 5 pictures, and he led Xander Schauffele by seven pictures. When Matsuyama walked off the fifteenth inexperienced a short while later, his lead over Schauffele had dwindled to simply two strokes. What as soon as appeared like a coronation was about to show right into a rock combat.
Schauffele had performed out of his thoughts, sure, firing 4 straight birdies from the twelfth to the fifteenth holes. But Matsuyama, so regular on Saturday, was rattled and rattling, getting sloppy and making poor decisions throughout Rae’s Creek. He buried the ball in the far bunker on 12, resulting in a bogey. He parked the ball in the tough excessive round the inexperienced on 13, and a positive birdie gap turned a par. Then, the worst mistake of all: he fired at the inexperienced on 15, going massive as a substitute of laying up, and his overcooked strategy skittered previous the inexperienced and into the water past. Just like that, a lead Matsuyama had held for greater than 20 holes was another unhealthy shot away from evaporating.
It’s a brief stroll from the fifteenth inexperienced to the sixteenth tee. Hardly sufficient time to write down your rating, a lot much less get your head straight after taking physique blows like that. The solar comes shining in at an angle, past the pines and the sixth inexperienced and the monumental scoreboard that reveals your successes and your failures all in a row. The tee at 16 is tucked right into a small nook, ringed by azaleas and overhanging bushes. It’s not a spot to go to cover. It’s a spot the place you’re uncovered.
Matsuyama is certainly one of the world’s most well-known golfers, largely as a result of he’s Japan’s most well-known golfer. In pre-COVID days, dozens of Japanese media members would journey to each match Matsuyama performed, watching him, photographing him, interviewing him, and asking each participant they may discover to touch upon him.
It’s been a harrowing, claustrophobic, suffocating existence in the highlight for Matsuyama, a lot so that he hid the existence of a spouse and youngster from the world for a number of months in 2017.
But now, on this second, there was completely nowhere to cover. He needed to face his fears, dwell as much as his desires. He needed to take the most necessary swing of his life.
Schauffele had the honors, although, and the alternative to place much more strain on Matsuyama. A shot to the middle of the inexperienced, even with the tucked Sunday pin placement — in the identical spot the place Tiger had rolled in that shot so a few years in the past — and Matsuyama’s collar would develop even tighter.
But Schauffele misjudged the wind, and his 8-iron ended up rolling softly into the water beside the inexperienced.
“Hit a really good shot on 16,” he stated afterward. “I committed to it. I hit a perfect shot. We thought it was down left to right. It was not down left to right, and the rest is history.”
That left Matsuyama on the tee with an surprising shot at salvation. Everything in his life, all his work, from the time he was a four-year-old golf prodigy to the barnstorming second 9 on Saturday at Augusta — all of it had led as much as this second for Matsuyama. All he wanted to do was hit it pure.
The ball took flight. The patrons murmured. It wasn’t on course, precisely, however how far off was it?
Not a lot, because it turned out. Matsuyama’s tee shot thumped proper onto the inexperienced, 41 toes from the pin. Safe. Smart. Tournament-winning.
“Unfortunately for Xander, he found the water with his tee shot,” Matsuyama stated via a translator. “I played safe to the right of the green at 16.”
Matsuyama would make it somewhat fascinating in these closing holes. He bogeyed each 16 and 18, his balky putter returning to the imply after two days of unexpectedly astronomical efficiency. But he held off Schauffele’s problem in that second, and that was sufficient to provide him a final push for the green jacket.
“I knew he was going to be a worldbeater, and he was,” stated Kevin Na shortly after the match ended. “This is going to mean a lot to golf in Asia.”
Every Masters win modifications the lifetime of the winner. This one may change the lifetime of hundreds. Matsuyama’s phenomenal reputation in Japan means that children there have a hero to emulate, the first Japanese winner of the Masters, the first male Japanese main winner. Matsuyama seemed up principally to baseball gamers — Yu Darvish, Shohei Otani, Kenta Maeda. But now, he’s the one on the pedestal.
“Up until now, we haven’t had a major champion in Japan, and maybe a lot of golfers or younger golfers, too, thought, well, maybe that’s an impossibility,” Matsuyama stated. “But with me doing it, hopefully that will set an example for them that it is possible and that, if they set their mind to it, they can do it, too.”
Somewhere in Japan, there’s a child — perhaps an entire lot of children — who bought up early to observe Matsuyama, the manner Matsuyama watched Woods. And perhaps, 15 or 20 years from now, that child can be taking part in in majors, they usually’ll look again to this second as the one that lit the fireplace beneath them.
“It’s thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today. Hopefully in five, ten years, when they get a little older, hopefully some of them will be competing on the world stage,” Matsuyama stated.
Then, a warning delivered with a smile: “But I still have a lot of years left, so they are going to have to compete against me still.”
Jay Busbee is a author for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected]
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