Tied for third, Hideki Matsuyama chasing latest Masters accomplishment
Hideki Matsuyama is no stranger to Masters Tournament success despite his young age, and he again finds himself in the thick of it entering Sunday.
The 24-year-old is quickly building a list of accomplishments at Augusta National Golf Club.
He became the first Japanese amateur to compete in a Masters in 2011 and was the only amateur to make the cut. He followed that by making the cut in 2012 to become the first amateur to play the weekend in consecutive years since 1991-92.
In his second professional Masters appearance in 2015, he shot a final-round 66 to finish fifth.
A year later, Matsuyama has put himself in position for an even greater Masters accomplishment. He’s just two strokes back of the lead at 1-under entering the final round after shooting even-par 72 on Saturday.
“I did prepare hard and well for this week’s tournament, and it’s paid off so far,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter.
Although he finished with the same 72 as Friday, Matsuyama’s third round was a steadier day, posting three birdies and three bogeys. Two bogeys on the final three holes separated him from a tie for first with Jordan Spieth, and he was within one of the lead twice on the back nine.
Matsuyama had chances to put his name at the top of the leaderboard throughout the round, but putting became an issue for the first time this week. He logged 34 putts compared with 29 on Friday.
It bit him the most down the stretch by missing a six-foot birdie on No. 15 and three-putting the 16th for bogey. He failed to get up and down on No. 17 by chipping it 16 feet past the hole.
The highlight came on No. 14 when he rolled in a 27-foot birdie putt that drew a fist pump and kept pace with Spieth, who had just birdied No. 12.
“I was really surprised it dove in,” Matsuyama said. “I’m glad it did, because if it had missed the cup, it would have been 30 feet, 33 feet by.”
Matsuyama’s 66 on Sunday last year showed he can shoot a low score at Augusta National, and he said it could take a similar round to win. But he plans to stick to the same plan and avoid watching the leaderboard.
“When you think about the conditions of last year and this year, it’s much more difficult this year,” he said. “But if I think too much about trying to shoot a 66, it’s not going to happen. So I just need to focus one shot at a time.”
Matsuyama could become the first Asian player to win the Masters, and it would be a popular win at Augusta National. Matsuyama won the Asian Amateur in 2010 and 2011, an event the club helped create to increase interest in the game in that region.
“Oh, it would be good. It would be a real celebration,” Augusta National and Masters Chairman Billy Payne said earlier this week. “And while you’re right, we obviously don’t play favorites, we have all talked about it, how long is it going to take.
“We had Hideki Matsuyama emerge so quickly as a great player, and we’re going to have others. So it’s going to be a very special day, very special day.”
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