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Hideki Matsuyama holds on to win the Masters Tournament
AP

Hideki Matsuyama holds on to win the Masters Tournament

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Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates on the 18th green after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia.

Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates on the 18th green after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/TNS)

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Japan is a golf-crazy country. There are waiting lists for memberships at driving ranges, let alone the best country clubs.

It has had no shortage of worldwide stars such as World Golf Hall of Fame members Isao Aoki and Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki, and Ozaki's brothers Naomichi "Joe" and Tateo "Jet."

There also was Shigeki Maruyama, Shingo Katayama, Ryo Ishikawa and in recent years, Hideki Matsuyama, a burly, long-hitting, sweet-swinging resident of Sendai, Japan — who couldn't return to the Tohuku Fukushi University in 2011 after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur because of the devastation caused by the Great Sendai Earthquake and the tsunami that followed.

Matsuyama earned his first start in the Masters by winning that tournament. A month later, after the Sendai Earthquake struck, he tied for 27th at the Augusta National Golf Club to earn low amateur honors.

Matsuyama almost didn't play that year because of the devastation that killed more than 19,000 people. But his family, coach and friends urged him to do it for his country.

Ten years later, Matsuyama has done even more for his country than any previous player: he's Japan's first men's major champion.

Matsuyama resisted the urge to implode on the final four holes at the Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday and a closing 73 was enough to win the Masters Tournament by one shot over rookie Will Zalatoris (70) at 10-under-par 278.

Two Japanese women have won LPGA majors, Hall of fame member Hisako Higuchi at the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women's British Open.

Matsuyama also won a week after Japanese 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani captured the Augusta National Women's Amateur in a playoff.

"I can't say I'm the greatest [player from Japan] but I'm the first to win a major," he said through an interpreter. "If that's the bar, then I set it. It's thrilling to think that a lot of young people in Japan are watching today. I'm happy for them. Hopefully they'll be able to follow in my footsteps."

Jordan Spieth (70) faded early, closed strong late but fell short at 7-under.

Xander Schauffele (72), who played with Matsuyama during both weekend rounds, came within two shots at one point but took a devastating triple-bogey 6 at the par-3 16th hole when his tee shot drifted left into the water. He finished tied with Spieth.

Jon Rahm had the low round of the day with a 66 and Marc Leishman (73) tied at 6-under. Justin Rose, the 18- and 36-hole leader (74) dropped to seventh at 5-under.

Matsuyama, the world's 25th-ranked player and now a six-time PGA Tour winner, earned $2,070,000 and 600 FedEx Cup points to jump 26 places to seventh.

Matsuyama began the day with a four-shot lead. He increased that to five shots when he birdied Nos. 8 and 9 on a pair of 3-foot putts and went to the second nine at Augusta, where dreams die as often as they come true.

With four holes left, he still led Schauffele by four shots. Matsuyama then hit his second shot into the water at No. 15 and took a bogey, and added another at No. 16 when he three-putted from 41 feet.

But Schauffele, who had gotten within two shots at the 15th with his fourth birdie in a row, inexplicably pushed his tee shot at No. 16 into the water and triple-bogeyed. No one else was close enough to make Matsuyama pay for his mistakes and he was able to play No. 18 for a safe bogey to win.

"I'm chasing," Schauffele said of his tee shot at the 16th, his first triple-bogey in a major. "If I had a lead, I would have bailed out right or tried to hit some sort of high left-to-right ball to the right. I fought hard. It was a messy start. Hideki was robot-like for 13 holes, didn't make a mistake. I felt like I gave him a little bit of run and a little bit of excitement to the tournament there at the end. Unfortunately, hit it in the drink there."

Zalatoris, trying to become only the second player to win in his first Masters start (Fuzzy Zoeller did it in 1977), birdied Nos. 15 and 17 to force Matsuyama's hand.

It wasn't enough in the end. But another star was born on the Augusta fairways.

"I've wanted to be in this position my entire life," said the former Wake Forest player, who was on the Korn Ferry Tour at this time last year. "I don't need to shy away from it now. Why be timid? I did a really good job of enjoying the moment but not letting it get to me."

If any player was expected to come back from the pack, it was Spieth, who was the only past Masters champion in the mix on Sunday.

But he bogeyed the first hole, made two more at Nos. 5 and 6 and a second-nine run, with four birdies in a six-hole stretch, was too little, too late.

"I just needed a really good start to have a chance today," said the 2015 champion at Augusta. "I just didn't have a great start. Then it was just kind of the story of the week. I hit some good putts, burned a lot of lips, certainly struck the ball well enough to win the golf tournament, and they just didn't go in. Certainly had them go in here plenty of times."

Other players who finished marveled at how much Matsuyama was in control of his game.

"His iron play is ridiculous," said Cameron Smith of Ponte Vedra Beach, who tied for 10th for his third top-10 finish in the Masters in four years. "Every time I play with him, he hits his irons, and they're nice and close every time. I played with him in the last round of the Asian Amateur [in 2011 3/8 and he just flushed it all day. We couldn't catch him."

Adam Scott, who has played with Matsuyama in Presidents Cups and with him in Japan, predicted that his victory would make Matsuyama even more of a national hero -- if that's possible.

"It'll be like it is normally for him, but more exciting," Scott said. "The crowds in Japan are fanatical [about Matsuyama] is the best way I can describe them. It makes for an incredibly fun energy to play golf in front of. He's a bit like a Tiger Woods to the rest of the world."

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