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April 12, 2021
Hideki Matsuyama, a worthy Masters champion
Playing Augusta National is like "walking on eggshells". The golf course can be soft and fuzzy and then out of nowhere it becomes a raging beast! Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters by playing the best golf while being burdened with the extra pressure that only a person from Japan can realize. This win makes him a national hero in a country that will enshrine him as a Japanese god who will be worshiped forever.
Matsuyama only slightly irritated the beast and never felt her deadly sting. Player after player made fatal mistakes that effectively put the tournament out of their grasp. Augusta National wants smart calculated play with pinpoint precision. Anything less than that could cause double bogies or worse. Players play fearful of "stepping on the wrong toes" and awakening Augusta's mean streak. But players can get on unbelievable runs that defy logic. Justin Rose's nine under stretch in 10 holes the first day was remarkable, because no one else in Masters' history has ever had that kind of run. Matsuyama's six under in seven holes on Saturday probably was the catalyst for his victory. Perfection could be used to describe Rose's and Matsuyama's streaks, because that's what this course demands. Less than really good usually ends in disaster. Others would get on a streak going four or five under in a few holes only to have Augusta lash out and put them back in their place.
Xander Schauffele seemingly played himself out of contention by going four over par on holes 3, 4 and 5. But he gathered himself with two birdies in the next three holes, before really putting on a charge with four birdies in a row before the fatal 16th hole. Xander hit what he thought was the right club on 16, but he miscalculated and Augusta grabbed another victim. With Hideki's bogie, a par would have put him one behind with two to play, but Augusta doesn't' reward less than perfect. Xander will have to wait for another time.
Will Zalatoris was impressive! He didn't back down and played like a person that expected to be there and could win. Ultimately finishing one shot back, his chances really were lost with three putts on 10, a short par putt on 12, another three putt on 13, and a makeable birdie putt on 14. He finished second, but never really was in position to win. Make a few of those putts and it's a different story. However, what a performance! That makes you believe greater things are in store for this young man.
The Masters occasionally produces an improbable winner that sneaks in while others are experiencing their Waterloo. This was not the case with Hideki. He once ranked second on the world and is generally considered one of the best in the game. I feel he hasn't won a major event or contended more often, because of the extraordinary lofty goals that his homeland places on him. Maybe this will unload the burden of expectations and more major victories will ensue. Even if it doesn't, this was a well-earned worthy victory that Hideki and Japan will celebrate forever.