On Sunday, Hideki Matsuyama won the 2021 Masters Tournament at the world-famous Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. His winning score was 10 under par for the week—one shot clear of the rest of the field. The decisive point for Matsuyama was Saturday’s third round, when he shot a seven-under par 65 and vaulted from a tie for sixth place to leading by four shots. Sunday’s final round tested the 29-year-old Japanese player’s mettle, as he repeatedly saw that four-shot lead tighten to just a single stroke. But he never lost the lead, and he handled some down-the-stretch adversity with the grace necessary to close out a win in golf’s most iconic tournament. In the process, he became the first Asian-born man to win the Masters in the tournament’s 85-year history.
Every Masters creates memories, but some years are more memorable than others. Matsuyama’s triumph at Augusta should stand the test of time as one of the tournament’s most exciting results, both because of how Matsuyama played and how he got there. Here’s a closer look at his historic victory.
Matsuyama Was Due for a Win at Major Tournament
Matsuyama has been one of the best pro golfers in the world for a decade. He first emerged onto the world stage at the Masters Tournament in 2011: At just 19 years old, he placed first among amateurs in the field. His one-under par score that week was only good for a tie for 27th overall, but in his Masters debut, Matsuyama demonstrated he had the talent to be a significant player for the next generation. He won five times on the PGA Tour between 2014 and 2017 and reached as high as No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He had a chance to be the best golfer in the world.
Then Matsuyama’s progress stalled. He didn’t win a tournament from 2018 to 2020, and he finished each of those years just outside the top 20 in the world. Along the way, he had a handful of near misses in major tournaments. He led during the final round of the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, but he cratered over his last nine holes and finished tied for fifth—a year after finishing tied for fourth in the same event.
With his Masters win this year, Matsuyama proved he’s not just a skilled player—he’s capable of winning major championships, too.
He Had an Entire Country Behind Him
If you attend enough big tournaments in person, you’ll notice something peculiar. The biggest crowd of reporters and photographers always follows Tiger Woods. Next might be Phil Mickelson, or maybe Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy. After those superstars, the largest throng is often the one following Matsuyama as he loops around his 18 holes.
Matsuyama draws a large following on the course because he’s incredibly popular in his native Japan. His success has been a point of pride for Japan’s golf fans and non-fans alike, and he has even become something like an ambassador for his home country: In 2017, he accompanied Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe for a round of golf with President Donald Trump.
Matsuyama is now the country’s first major winner in the men’s game. Two Japanese women had already won majors: Hisako Higuchi at the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 British Open. Matsuyama’s win also caps a tremendous two-week run for Japan at Augusta National: 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship the weekend before the Masters began.
Matsuyama’s Win Busts Old Narratives About What It Takes to Win a Major
There are two old cliches about contending in major championships. First, there’s the idea that majors are decided on the putting green more than anywhere else; in other words, the key to victory is to sink enough icy putts to outlast the competition. Second, there’s a notion that majors come down to “finishing strong,” as if Sunday’s final round counts more than other days.
Matsuyama’s victory flies in the face of both of those ideas. Matsuyama entered the week 170th on the PGA Tour this year in strokes gained while putting, an advanced stat that measures how many strokes a player gains or loses to the field by how well he putts. He putted well at Augusta but didn’t exactly tear up the greens. Instead, he hit his tee and iron shots well and put himself in a position where he didn’t need to be a hero once he got close to the hole.
His win also wasn’t due to any outstanding success in the final round. Matsuyama built his lead on Saturday and spent Sunday narrowly clinging to it. He came close to losing it for good when Xander Schauffele made four birdies in a row from holes 12 to 15. On the last of those, Matsuyama hit a ball into the water, giving Schauffele a chance to tie or take the lead on the next hole.
Instead, Schauffele made a triple bogey on that hole. Matsuyama made a bogey himself but still gained two shots on Schauffele, and eventually won by a shot over second-place finisher Will Zalatoris. (Schauffele and Jordan Spieth tied for third, three shots behind Matsuyama. Spieth, too, had made a triple-bogey earlier in the week.)
And maybe that’s the greatest lesson of all in Matsuyama’s win: He didn’t do it by being perfect. He did it by avoiding the crucial mistakes others couldn’t.
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