Four years since he last raised a trophy and in his 10th appearance at the Masters, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama moved into position for his first major title with a late charge Saturday at Augusta National.
In fact, no native of Japan has ever won a men’s major tournament, with Matsuyama in position to be the first with a four-shot lead at 11-under 205 heading into Sunday’s final round at Augusta, Ga. His 7-under-par 65 was the best round of the day by three shots.
England’s Justin Rose, the leader after the first two rounds, was in a group of four in second place at 7 under after shooting an even-par 72.
Xander Schauffele (68), Will Zalatoris (71) and Australia’s Marc Leishman (70) also were at 7 under and in position to make a charge if Matsuyama falters.
Another shot back at 6 under and in sixth place was Canada’s Corey Conners (68), who had a hole-in-one at No. 6 in the third round. Alone in seventh at 5 under was 2015 champion Jordan Spieth, who had to scramble for an even-par 72.
A five-time winner on the PGA Tour and a 14-time winner world-wide, Matsuyama has not finished on top since 2017. In the third round of the first major of 2021, though, he hardly looked like somebody who forgot what it takes to win.
“It’s going to be a new experience for me, being a leader going into the final round in a major,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter during the CBS broadcast. “I guess all I can do is to just relax the best I can tonight, prepare well and just do my best (Sunday).”
The 29-year-old once was low amateur at the Masters, in 2011, so his familiarity with Augusta’s challenges is rich. His best finish was fifth place in 2015.
After manoeuvring through the course’s menacing opening six holes at even par, Matsuyama recorded his first birdie at the par-4 seventh hole with a 5-foot birdie putt. He was at 5 under for the tournament when he made the turn to the back nine.
After returning from the 77-minute weather delay, his back-nine charge started at No. 11 with a birdie. He followed that with another birdie at No. 12 to move to 7 under and into a tie for the lead with Rose. The stakes were raised just a few holes later.
Seconds after Rose moved into sole possession of the lead at 8 under with a 27-foot birdie putt at No. 12, Matsuyama answered with a 6-foot eagle putt at the par-5 15th hole to move to 9 under. Not content with that statement, Matsuyama then made birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 to reach 11 under.
What inspired Matsuyama during the delay?
“I spent the hour just sitting in my car, looking at my cellphone,” he said.
After making statements of his own on the back nine during the first two rounds, Rose did not have enough answers Saturday. Rose was 6 under on the back nine Thursday and 3 under Friday but finished even par over his final nine holes.
“I’ve been playing with the lead the whole week, and obviously there’s been an hour of golf where Hideki has moved out there in front,” Rose said. “You know, the guys chasing at 7 under are all capable of that little run that Hideki has had, so it’s all up for grabs (Sunday).”
The 24-year-old Zalatoris, who played in the final group with Rose on Saturday, showed his poise with two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine followed by two birdies and a bogey on the back.
Zalatoris, who is playing in his first Masters, could be the first to win at Augusta in his debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
“You’ll see me every single time when I’m on (the 12th hole), kind of looking back when we cross the bridge and just kind of looking back on Amen Corner,” Zalatoris said. “Enjoy it. I’ve been wanting to do this my entire career, and I put myself in a pretty good spot.
“Obviously I’m four shots back, so I’ve got a good chance.”
Defending U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau struggled to a 3-over 75 that put him in a tie for 38th place at 2 over. PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa also shot a 3-over 75 to put him in a tie for 29th place at 1 over.
Phil Mickelson, who barely made the cut Friday, made a move with a 3-under 69 that put him in a tie for 21st place at even par. The 50-year-old is a three-time winner at Augusta in 2004, 2006 and 2010.