They also could get rapturous. In a development that long has seemed plausible for someday in the future, someday showed up Saturday at the Masters when Hideki Matsuyama treated the back nine at Augusta National to some of the utmost brilliance it has ever allowed, shooting a 30 that should have had violin accompaniment. When the 29-year-old from the city of Matsuyama in the prefecture of Ehime closed his 65, the only round of all the round this week to lack even one bogey, he led the 85th Masters by four shots heading for Sunday.
It was a fresh perch even for this compelling talent who has finished in the top 10 in seven major tournaments, including at least once in all four of them. By playing the last eight holes after a weather delay Saturday in 6 under par, with a legit eagle at No. 15 surrounded by four other birdies, he had ventured from 5 under and the gifted muddle behind second-round leader Justin Rose all the way to 11 under, ahead of a horde at 7 under. That group included Rose, who hung on to his game despite some loose gaskets to land at even-par 72; habitual contender Xander Schauffele; 37-year-old Australian Marc Leishman; and 24-year-old bale of future Will Zalatoris, who has moved from No. 2,006 in the world at the end of 2018 to No. 46 nowadays. Canadian Corey Conners, who made a hole-in-one on No. 6, lurks at 6 under, with 2015 champion Jordan Spieth one behind that.
“Right before the rain delay, I probably hit the worst shot I’ve hit all week,” Matsuyama told reporters in Georgia of his drive into unwanted proximity to nature on the right of No. 11. “And during the rain delay, I just figured, ‘I can’t hit anything worse than that.’ And so maybe it relieved some pressure, I don’t know, but I did hit it well coming in after the delay.”
His lead had a heap of significance for someone so young to carry around a major Sunday, but luckily Matsuyama has frequented majors since the 2011 Masters, when he finished as the low amateur at 19 as the winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur. He has reached No. 2 in the world and holds down No. 25. Still, he seeks to become the first Japanese man to win a major title, following upon two women’s winners: the pioneering Hisako Higuchi at the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno, who won a major at her first major, the 2019 Women’s British Open. He also would follow his teenage countrywoman from the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last week, winner Tsubasa Kajitani.
Further, he would provide the Masters with a 12th nationality among its champions and become the first new addition since Adam Scott of Australia in 2013.
As for what all of that would mean, he told reporters: “I’m not sure how to answer the question. All I can do is prepare well, try my best, do the best that I can tomorrow.”
“He’s an incredible iron player,” said Schauffele, the Californian polyglot who played with Matsuyama on Saturday, who spoke Japanese with him and who rang in a 60-foot eagle putt on No. 15 just before Matsuyama’s six-footer. “This is a great course for him.”
“He’s generally pretty steady,” Leishman said. “He’s a great iron player.”
“So I’ve been playing with the lead the whole week, and obviously there’s been an hour of golf where Hideki has sort of moved out there in front,” Rose said. “All the guys chasing at 7 under par are all capable of that little run that Hideki has had, so it’s all up for grabs tomorrow.”
It all started Saturday with that dislikable drive on the right on No. 11, whereupon the horn sounded and Matsuyama spent the delay in his car playing games on his phone. He returned, smacked one to 19 feet and made that. He launched a beauty over Rae’s Creek to Amen Corner at No. 12, getting to 10 feet and making that. He actually three-putted No. 13 for par. He eagled No. 15 by hitting from 205 yards to six feet, birdied the par-3 No. 16 by landing at four feet, his precision now a marvel, and he looked beyond happy when he approached from 143 yards to 10 feet on No. 17, then made that.
Even on No. 18, he went into a fairway bunker and went out of there with a commanding shot over the green, which he knocked from 25 yards back to two feet.
It all came 10 years after Matsuyama debuted at Augusta, told of “chills” from the galleries applauding him on No. 18 and talked of planning to return to a damaged dormitory at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, which had suffered a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami March 11, 2011.
He finished fifth at the 2015 Masters and said, “I would really like to become a Masters champion someday,” but then he actually had tapered off somewhat since 2017, as golf usually will demand. His most recent top-10 finishes in majors came that year — a tie for second at the U.S. Open and a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship — before 11 ensuing majors without such contention, his best finish a tie for 13th at the 2020 Masters in November. By Saturday, he had found his way back to the sublime.
— Chuck Culpepper