Another year past and yet again the defending champion is unable to defend his title. In fact Dustin Johnson failed to even make the cut after a disappointing first two rounds. Once more the weekend at Augusta proved to shake up the top order as the course took in the leaders and spat them out with no forgiveness. But one man would stand strong against the course and would come away victorious.
How it Started..
At the start of the weekend it was England’s Justin Rose, chasing his first Masters victory after two previous second place finishes, who strode out to an early lead. A commanding first round, which saw him go 9 under for the final 11 holes, put Rose in control at the top of the leaderboard. A seasoned PGA professional this was not the first time Rose had been in this position, and entering day two he had a 4 shot lead. The stars finally seemed to be aligning for the Olympic champion. Previous champion Jordan Spieth finished his first round under par for the 5th time. The previous 4 times he’d finished no worse than 3rd, could this year be his return to Masters glory? Tommy Fleetwood made a huge impression in the final moments of his round, becoming the 32nd player to record a hole-in-one at the Masters. For the rest of the pack, Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama sat in second with 4 players in T-3rd, including previous green jacket holder Patrick Reed and rookie Will Zalatoris.
The second day brough the arrival of the cut which saw several big names dropped from the field. 2020 champion Dustin Johnson saw his hopes of back to back titles go up in flames, along with Rory McIlroy, Brookes Koepka and last year’s wildcard Sungjae Im. But low scores elsewhere from the likes of Tony Finau and Marc Leishman left the top order a lot closer than it was on the first day. Impressive rounds from Spieth and Zalatoris put them back in the running, as Rose found himself in difficulty on the front nine, before an under par back nine put him back in the lead for the weekend. Will Zalatoris, who doesn’t even have a PGA Tour card, on his first Masters appearance was steadily making his way through the field and was well positioned to take a run at the fabled weekend pins at Augusta. He was quoted saying “If I’m stupid enough to think I can play here, then I’m stupid enough to think I can win it”. Having drawn plenty of social media attention for his remarkable resemblance to Happy Gilmore’s caddy, Zalatoris became a fan favourite overnight.
Overnight brought the clouds rolling in, and resulted in a rain delay that lasted over an hour for the mid tournament leaders. It was Hideki Matsuyama who performed on day three, shooting an inspired 65 exactly ten years after his first Masters appearance where he won low amateur. Whilst other players used the rain delay to talk tactics with their caddies or put some practice in on the range / greens, Matsuyama was sat on his phone in his car. Xander Schauffele shot his second consecutive round under par to more to within a few shots of the leader, Zalatoris and Leishman were still in the hunt both shotting under par scores to keep the pressure on Matsuyama. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the rest of the field however, as Canadian Corey Conners became the 33rd person to hole out from a tee shot. With one day to go, would Matsuyama become the first Japanese winner of the Masters, or would Will Zalatoris become just the second rookie to win in the 85 years of the tournament.
How it Finished..
Jon Rahm would start the final day off with a birdie on the first, and then an eagle on the second. The Spaniard was on a role and would card the lowest card of the day at 66. Sitting in the clubhouse at 6 under, Rahm hoped that the leaders would suffer the fate that had befallen many before them. It was not to be as the leaders handled the course incredibly well, Jordan Spieth carding his 3rd under par round of the tournament with some excellent scrambling play from adventurous positions all over the course. Schauffele brought himself to within 1 of the leader, before hitting the water at 15 and dropping back to finish T-3rd. Zalatoris came the closest finishing 1 shot back, the only player to card 4 under par rounds, the young man did himself credit and showed that he has a long bright future ahead of him. All eyes were focused on Hideki Matsuyama as he rounded the turn, having gone under par for the first nine. Would he suffer the fate of so many past leaders around Augusta? It looked as though Matsuyama was in the clear as he safely navigate Amen corner, but the wheels looked to be coming loose, as a ball in the water on 15 would test the nerves of the green jacket favourite. He’d go on to bogey 2 of the next 3 to finish and whilst he may have looked cool on the outside, one can only imagine the nerves he faced on the final hole, needing just a 5 to win his first ever Major.
Matsuyama’s win will make him a hero in Japan, being their first Masters champion and will hopefully inspire the next generation of Japan to take up the wonderful game.
Written by: Sam Peters
Edited by: Lois George
Header by: Annabel Smith