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The Masters: Hideki Matsuyama becomes first Japanese winner with one-stroke victory at Augusta

Matsuyama masters Augusta (and extreme expectations).

We were spoiled in 2019. With thousands in attendance, Tiger Woods completed one of sport’s greatest comeback stories, holding off some of the best players in the world to capture his fifth Masters title.

It was sporting theatre at its finest. After an enthralling final round, Woods tapped in his winning putt to thunderous acclaim before embracing his kids in emotional scenes by the 18th green.

Since then, the Masters simply hasn’t delivered anywhere near that level of drama. Last year, in its one-off November spot, Dustin Johnson strolled to a five-stroke victory.

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama.

And here, while Hideki Matsuyama becoming the first player from Japan to win a major in the men’s game was certainly a significant moment, it was far from the most gripping Masters Sunday.

It did, however, produce a worthy champion. Thankfully for Matsuyama, he steadied the ship after an early error. With Will Zalatoris having opened with a couple of birdies, the overnight leader dropped a shot at the first.

Suddenly, the lead was a single shot and hopes for a Sunday shootout began to grow.

Unfortunately, that was about as tense as it got for much of the round as Matsuyama assumed control, playing some supreme, stress-free golf to secure his position at the leaderboard’s summit.

Birdies at two, eight and nine put clear daylight between the 29-year-old and the field, from which point he looked largely in control, his only shaky moment coming at the 15th when he powered his approach at the par-five over the green and into the water, which led to a bogey.

Xander Schauffele, Matsuyama’s playing partner and closest pursuer on the back nine, knocked in his fourth straight birdie on the 15th to move to within two with Matsuyama having at one point enjoyed a six-shot cushion.

For a few minutes, it looked as though the tournament was finally coming alive, until Schauffele blew his chances with a triple-bogey six at the 16th after finding water with his tee shot.

Matsuyama deserves all the plaudits that will come his way. Not only did he ably shoulder the expectations of an entire nation, but he successfully navigated his way back to the top of the game after a three-and-half-year stint outside of the winner’s circle.

His career comes full circle after finishing as the low amateur at the Masters in 2011. Still only 29, it is exciting to think what the future may hold for the latest man to slip into golf’s most coveted garment.

Schauffele may have given him a brief scare, but there wasn’t much to shout about from the rest. Zalatoris’ putter cooled after a fast start, although he ground out a gutsy par at the last to wrap up second place.

Justin Rose and Marc Leishman, both much-fancied at the start of the day, ran out of steam and never featured.

Jordan Spieth continued his fine form as a closing 70 secured a top-five finish – his fifth in eight visits to Augusta – while the round of the day came from Jon Rahm, whose 66 was fun to watch even if he was never close enough to really drift into Matsuyama’s rearview mirror.

The Spaniard finished in a tie for fifth and will undoubtedly have better chances to win this tournament in the years ahead.

There was good news for Robert MacIntyre, the popular left-handed Scot, who on his debut secured a top-12 finish to ensure his participation in the 2022 tournament.

As for Shane Lowry, the Irishman carded a level-par 72 to finish at even for the week. The Open champion played plenty of quality shots, but was left to rue too many costly errors as he finished in a tie for 21st (his best Masters finish).

“I feel like I’ve played good enough golf this week to be out there somewhere around Amen Corner with a chance to win the tournament,” said Lowry.

“I just kind of made a few too many mistakes along the way.

“You know, the 9th hole perfectly kind of sums up my week. I’m 2-under playing nine. I’ve got a great chance. Genuinely, on this course, I’m thinking, if I can hole this now and kind of get a bit of a run going on the back nine, who knows? Then I three-putt that, and I’m like, oh, now I’m struggling again.

“Look, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my week because I feel like every day I come out and play this place I’m figuring it out a little bit better. I love the way I played this week.”

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