Hideki Matsuyama is the 2021 Masters champion!
Two putts for bogey, but it doesn’t matter. Hideki Matsuyama, so long a major-championship nearly man, deservedly wins the green jacket! He had to go through the ringer, mind!
Two putts for Schauffele. Par, a 72, some heartfelt applause. But he came agonisingly short this time. He ends the week at -7 in a tie for third.
A sigh of relief as he finds his ball resting on a flat lie in the sand. He splashes out to six feet, and he can begin to breathe out again. A huge smile now. Probably 70 percent nerves but 30 percent giddy excitement. Japan is about to win its first men’s major!
Actually, he might not enjoy it that much. He sends a nervous wedge into the bunker to the right. Still some work to do, and Zalatoris is on the range, keeping warm, just in case. Schauffele spins his approach to 12 feet, but it’s too little, too late. Warm applause as the pair come up the last, and Matsuyama politely acknowledges the crowd, but he’s understandably preoccupied with the task in hand.
Matsuyama obviously decided early doors that he was going to go for it, whatever the situation. That’d explain his approach to 13 that nearly got snaffled by the azaleas, and the hot iron over 15 that nearly spoilt it all. But it’s an approach that, one way or another, has been borne out by results. He unsheathes big bertha on 18, where he could be excused for playing it safe, and skelps a wonderful tee shot into prime real estate, the centre of the fairway. He’s about to take the most enjoyable walk of his life!
Rose’s partner Marc Leishman pars the last, and puts his name to a 73. He ends the Tournament at -6. Back, then, to 17, where the last two players out there make two-putt pars. Schauffele still has that drained look, and no wonder. He’ll have only just started replaying the carnage of the 16th hole, and it’s mental footage his mind won’t erase for some time.
-11: Matsuyama (17)
-9: Zalatoris (F)
-7: Spieth (F), Schauffele (17)
-6: Rahm (F), Leishman (F)
-5: Rose (F)
Matsuyama takes another big step towards his dream by clipping his second at 17 into the front of the green. Schauffele wedges in too, but he’s not particularly close. Meanwhile a big cheer up on 18, where Justin Rose tickles in a long downhill birdie putt and signs for a 74. Still no green jacket – he ends the week at -5 – though he’s now got the slightly dubious honour of having led more rounds at Augusta without ever winning the Masters. For the record, his seven beats the five of Chris DiMarco, Lloyd Mangrum, Greg Normann and Ken Venturi.
A lovely interview with Robert MacIntyre on Sky. Chuffed to bits with his top-12 finish, he points out that he’d only previously played Augusta “on computer games with my pals”. His -2 total means he’s back here next year, but more importantly announces his talent on the big stage. Scotland has waited a while for their next golfing superstar. Here he is!
And yet, despite Schauffele’s dramatic capitulation, this is still not secure for Matsuyama … because on 18, Zalatoris rolls in a 20-footer to save his par, and post a new clubhouse lead at -9! There’s still only two shots in this. Can Matsuyama hold his nerve? His drive down the middle of 17 says yes.
-11: Matsuyama (16)
-9: Zalatoris (F)
-7: Spieth (F), Schauffele (16)
Schauffele does well to chip down from the bank to 12 feet. But the double-bogey putt is slippery, and always missing to the right. A sickening triple-bogey six, and his brave bid is kaput. A major will be his sometime soon, though, surely; he ends in the top ten too often. His pain will be compounded by Matsuyama’s three-putt bogey, a slip that will add to the magnitude of this particular If Only.
Spieth’s bid comes to a conclusive end at 18. His approach comes up short of the green, and he can’t get up and down. A final round of 70, and he finishes the week at -7, poised to finish fourth as things stand. He had his chances to win this week, but didn’t quite have his A-game with him. A-minus, mind you. So nearly there. But he’s back! Perhaps the golfing gods have a win at the PGA next month lined up for him instead, which would complete his career slam. How about it, huh?
Matsuyama finds the green with his tee shot, though he’ll have a tricky two putts down the hill. However, it might not matter, because Schauffele sends his third, from the drop zone, into the patrons lining the back of the green. He looks close to tears as he trudges up, his hopes and dreams within reach minutes ago, but now so far away. It’s difficult to watch.
Schauffele pulls his tee shot at 16 into the water! After all that, clawing himself back into contention with those four birdies in a row, he throws it away with a heavy contact, his ball bouncing sadly into the drink. As the water ripples, the blood drains from the young man’s face. What a shocker. The sort of shot that will live with him for years.
It’s all happening in this final match! But that doesn’t mean the drama is the exclusive preserve of Matsuyama and Schauffele. Up on 18, birdie for Bob MacIntyre! It’s a 72, he’s -2, and he’s in a tie for 12th right now, which will earn him an invite back next year. On 17, birdie for Zalatoris, who moves to -9 to remain in the hunt. And Spieth splits the fairway on 18, in search of a birdie that would set a target.
Matsuyama decides to take the putter out instead, and lags up to kick-in distance. He taps in for bogey. Smart play after making the mistake with his approach. World-class damage limitation. But Schauffele tidies up for birdie, and suddenly the gap at the top is just two!
-12: Matsuyama (15)
-10: Schauffele (15)
Matsuyama clips his fourth into the bank. He doesn’t quite make the green, but rather that than overhitting and watching his ball trundle across the glassy surface and into the drink on the other side. He’ll still face a tricky chip and putt for bogey, though. Before that, it’s Schauffele’s turn from the bunker … and he nearly guides it in for eagle with some soft-handed magic! He’ll be tapping in for birdie. But before, it’s back to Matsuyama …
As Matsuyama ponders his options, there’s bedlam on 16. That’s because Leishman is an inch or so away from making the third ace of the 2021 Masters. One more turn is all it required. He’ll tap in for birdie that’ll bring him back to -6.
Meanwhile, up on 17, Spieth sends a lovely second into the heart of the green, then rolls in a 15-footer for birdie. He’s -8, and given the travails of Matsuyama, isn’t out of this either.
Oh my. Matsuyama is a long way back, and decides to go for it anyway. His long iron takes a flyer. The ball sails over the green, takes a big bounce off the bank at the back, and into the drink! Schauffele’s approach isn’t ideal either … but he’s in the bunker to the right of the green and dry. This is not over. It isn’t over!
Matsuyama and Schauffele wait at the top of the hill on 15, watching quietly as Rose takes two putts for a bogey six. Par for Leishman. Both men in the penultimate group are -5 overall, two over for their rounds today.
Matsuyama and Schauffele whip their drives down the middle of 15. A couple of big second shots coming up. Meanwhile on 17, MacIntyre drops another shot, and while he’ll probably not make the top 12 for a 2022 invite now, this has still been a brilliant performance by the 24-year-old debutant, and Scotland has a new golfing star at long last. He’s -1
Spieth sends his tee shot at 16 into MacIntyre Country, the ball failing to catch the slope towards the hole. He’s left with that tricky two-putt for par, but he’s got more experience round here than the young man from Oban, and grinds it out. He stays at -7. Meanwhile back on 15, Rose’s second into the green spins back down the bank and into the drink. It was a brilliant opening-day 65 by Rose, but nothing’s quite clicked since.
Matsuyama sends a confident, borderline aggressive putt towards the cup. It nicks the left lip and rolls on a couple of feet, but he makes the one coming back. Schauffele then tidies up for his third birdie in a row. This is still not quite over. It’s been a very impressive comeback by Schauffele, after that four-shot capitulation of 3, 4 and 5. Birdie for Zalatoris at 15, by the way. The debutant hasn’t thrown in the towel yet either!
-13: Matsuyama (14)
-9: Schauffele (14)
-8: Zalatoris (15)
-7: Spieth (15)
Matsuyama knocks his approach at 14 to 13 feet. That’s magnificent, but nothing on Schauffele’s effort, which nearly spins into the cup. He’ll surely tap that in from a couple of feet for a birdie that’ll take him up to -9. But first, can the leader slot his chance away? It’d be another match-play style bodyblow for Schauffele if he does!
Schauffele and Matsuyama take turns to split the 14th fairway. Matsuyama is all smiles again. Up on 15, it’s just a par for Spieth, and that’s his last chance of applying some distant pressure on the leader gone. And on 16, MacIntyre three-putts to slip back to -12, just outside the places for an automatic invitation for 2022. Bah.
Matsuyama responds to all this sudden adversity with aplomb! He chips gracefully down from the bank, from 30 yards to three feet. Schauffele fails to make his eagle putt, having been spooked in the match-play style, and what briefly threatened to become a two-shot swing – maybe more – ends with both men carding birdies. That was a marvellous response by the leader, and that delicate, nerveless chip is probably the shot that secures the win.
-13: Matsuyama (13)
-8: Schauffele (13)
-7: Spieth (14), Zalatoris (14)
-6: Rahm (F), Rose (13)
-5: Reed (17), Leishman (13)
Great news of Oban’s finest, Bob MacIntyre! Having started slowly with bogey at 1 and double at 6, he’s since birdied 8, 9, 12 and now 15, a run that’s brought him up to -3, and a place in the top ten that’d ensure his return next year. Mind you, his tee shot into 16 doesn’t catch the slope, and that’ll be a hideous two putts down the green for par.
All of a sudden, Matsuyama isn’t thinking straight. You’d imagine with his advantage, he’d lay up from the first cut. But he decides to whip a long iron over the creek. He tugs it, and the ball’s heading for the azaleas, but it fortunately hits the bank and sits down in the greenside rough. Still not ideal, but had that ball been sailing a few inches higher, it’d have plugged in the shrubbery. Schauffele, sensing a slither of light, turns the heat up by arrowing his second from 165 yards to ten feet! He’ll have a great look for eagle. Well, well, well. Masters Sunday, right here!
The first sign of nerves from Matsuyama since the opening few holes? He sends his drive at 13 into the trees down the right, and gets a huge break as the ball crashes off a trunk and is spat back out into the first cut. He breaks into a jog and pops off to the Little Room. Who can blame him? I’d be necking so much Imodium in his position, you could rattle me like a pair of maracas.
The 2018 champ Patrick Reed is putting together a nice little finishing flourish. Four birdies in a row, the latest at 16, where he nearly aced in the traditional Sunday style, the ball feeding down towards the hole from the centre of the green. He’s -5, suddenly tied for sixth. He’ll be cursing his 75 on Friday.
Matsuyama can’t make his par saver, but he’ll have mentally settled for bogey the minute his tee shot found sand. Meanwhile Schauffele rattles in a birdie putt from the fringe, while Spieth converts his chance at 14. So suddenly the lead is only – only! – five, but now three players are on his shoulder. It’s not quite over yet.
-12: Matsuyama (12)
-7: Spieth (14), Zalatoris (13), Schauffele (12)
-6: Rahm (F)
If anyone’s going to make a Hail Mary run at Matsuyama, you’d imagine it’d be Jordan Spieth. Having just birdied 13, he now slings his second at 14 from 150 yards to five feet! If he gets that … well, let’s not get silly, but Matsuyama is very conservative with his splash out of the bunker at the back of 12, in order to avoid a dramatic splash in the creek. (Remember how Tiger ran up double figures here back in November!) He’ll have a 20-footer for par.
A lovely warm cheer for Matsuyama as he reaches the 12th tee. The patrons know their
onions, and they’re almost certainly serenading the new Masters champion. Matsuyama sends his tee shot over the green into the bunker at the back. Not ideal, but neither is it wet. Six shots ahead, he’ll take that.
Another sensational approach by Tony Finau! Unlike the one on 7, this one at 14 is all skill, no luck, pitching 20 feet past the flag and using a combination of bank and backspin to reverse his ball into the cup for birdie. He’s -2. Meanwhile back on 11, two careful putts for Matsuyama and it’s a more than acceptable par. He’s one step closer to glory … although the next shot is the one he’ll have been dreading. Stay dry at 12, and you’d imagine he’ll make it home safely. Here we go, then!
Spieth reaches the par-five 13th with two big booms. But his measly reward is a 50-foot eagle curler. He does very well to tease his first putt to four feet, but birdie’s not enough if he’s to force a dramatic capitulation. He’s seven back at -6.
Zalatoris yips his short par putt, and there’s no pressure being applied whatsoever to Matsuyama. The leader is now six clear, he’s found 11 in regulation, and surely the only person that can now beat him is the man himself.
-13: Matsuyama (10)
-7: Zalatoris (12)
-6: Rahm (F), Schauffele (10)
-5: Spieth (12), Rose (11)
Up on 18, a final bogey for Phil Mickelson. He signs for a 72 and the three-time champ ends the week at level par. It’s been a good week for the 50-year-old, and could the golfing gods arrange a fairytale at Torrey Pines in June, please?
Zalatoris’s tee shot at 12 doesn’t quite reach the green … but it’s close, and sticks dutifully on the bank without any Couplesesque drama. He’ll take that, though he nips over the Hogan Bridge like an Olympic walker, with a view to taking his second quickly, just in case his ball has any notions of rolling down the slope. No real worries of that, and he wedges quickly to four feet.
Matsuyama is left with an uphill right-to-left curler from 30 feet. He nearly teases it into the cup, but the ball stays an inch high on the right. He taps in for par … as does Schauffele after nearly draining his 25-footer … as does Zalatoris on 11 … as does Spieth on 12, after nearly clipping his chip in for birdie. It’s all happening, if it’s permissible to say that after four quickfire pars.
-13: Matsuyama (10)
-8: Zalatoris (11)
-6: Rahm (F), Schauffele (10)
-5: Spieth (12), Leishman (10), Rose (10)
Back on 10, both Matsuyama and Schauffele find the dancefloor in regulation. Wide smiles as they walk up the fairway. Nervous smiles, maybe, with Amen Corner looming. Up on 11, Zalatoris reaches the green in two, but leaves himself a jittery four-footer for his par. He’ll really need to make that.
Jordan Spieth, having lived through a back-nine capitulation here, won’t be making any assumptions quite yet. He’s certainly not the type to throw in the towel, and from the fringe at 11, bundles a chip from 90 feet to four. What a par save! He remains at -5. Then the tee shot at 12 that caused him so much angst in 2016 … and he pushes it a little. For a second, it looks like holding the fringe. Then it looks like picking up speed and dropping into Rae’s Creek. Finally it snags in the second cut, staying dry. He’ll have half a chance of bumping in a chip, and a great chance of the up and down that’ll save another par.
The 2021 Masters starts here!
Yep, the final group on Sunday has reached the 10th tee. This is where Rory McIlroy’s dreams started to unravel spectacularly a decade ago, as he hooked his drive towards the cabins. No such fate befalls Hideki Matsuyama, who sends a gentle draw down the track. This is impressive stuff from the 29-year-old Japanese star, who has recovered magnificently from his stuttering start.
Zalatoris sends his approach at 10 a little long. An excitable putt back leads to bogey. That could be so costly, as back on 9, Matsuyama caresses his second to four feet, leaving himself an uphill birdie putt. In it goes, and he’s turning in 34 … with a five-shot lead. Jordan Spieth infamously failed to convert this exact situation into glory five years ago, so nothing’s certain, but this is beginning to look like a procession. Not that the player himself will allow that thought to cross his mind, of course.
-13: Matsuyama (9)
-8: Zalatoris (10)
-6: Rahm (F), Schauffele (9)
-5: Spieth (10), Leishman (9), Rose (9)
Jon Rahm is desperate for one last birdie to make that clubhouse lead look a little bit more ominous. He crashes his drive at 18 into Position A, sending a power fade around the corner, then wedges over the flag to 15 feet. He tickles the putt down the green … but it stops one turn short. Just a par, though that’s an exquisite final round of 66. His final total of -6 won’t be enough to win, unless something really strange unfolds, but what does it matter, when little Kepa and wife Kelley will be so proud of him?
Misery for Rose on 9, as an eight-foot par putt horseshoes out. He had to step away from that a couple of times, as gusts of wind played havoc with his stance and, more crucially I’ll be bound, his mental equilibrium. He slips back to -5. The chasing pack can’t afford a single slip, and the look of despair washing across Rose’s face illustrates that completely.
That’s a hell of a leader board, you know. Not least because, Jordan Spieth apart, nobody on it has a green jacket to their name. Additionally, Justin Rose is the only other player up there with a major to his name. And the wind is seriously picking up. Let those nerve ends jingle-jangle!