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Murphy: Masters champion Matsuyama leaves imprint, despite shaky finish at Augusta
Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, celebrates after putting on the champion's green jacket after winning the Masters golf tournament on Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. Photo by Gregory Bull Associated Press

Hideki Matsuyama’s win at the Masters wasn’t the prettiest. 

He nearly squandered a five-shot lead on the back nine and had a 1-over par for the final round to finish at 10 under at Augusta. 

Years from now, though, we won’t remember the strokes he gave away late to a tightening field. 

What will be remembered from 2021 was the 29-year-old’s grace in bringing a Japanese golfer its first green jacket. 

After shooting a 65 in the third round, after a long rain delay, the first-time major champion withstood bogeys on 3 of his final 5 holes Sunday to win at Augusta National. 

Matsuyama was sheepish in walking the 18th green, even though he had two strokes to remain a shot clear of runner-up Will Zalatoris, the slim and confident young American.

However, Matsuyama’s energy was radiant as he walked the grounds, after it was over, as he greeted and hugged the friends who travelled with him for the glorious occasion — which were few, due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

When it was over, we knew golf had its new superstar. 

They call him Hideki.

The Far East has been well represented in the Masters before. Japan has put players in Augusta every year since 1968. 

However, this one put Japan on top and gave the world a new face to remember. 

On No. 18, Matsuyama regained his poise with a precise fairway shot that left him about 20 feet from the cup to become a golfing legend — in the US and certainly back at home where the Japanese fans were ringing in Monday morning watching their own son win. 

There were times when it looked shaky for the next star at Augusta. On the par-5 15th, he skipped his second shot off the green as it ran blisteringly fast off the back of the putting surface and into the water. 

On No. 13, Matsuyama had a fortuitous bounce off the trees to the left of the fairway with his driver. 

He would recover for one of his five bogeys on the back nine Sunday. 

Never was it pretty over the final 18 for the new Masters champion, but his demeanor was flawless as he spoke in short and precise sentences through his English translator. 

Once it was finished, Matsuyama flashed his youthful smile and was welcomed to the club of Masters champions in Butler Cabin, sitting alongside 2020 winner Dustin Johnson.  

He qualified for the first two of his 10 Masters appearances through the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, an event organized by the hosts of the Masters and the British Open as part of the grow-the-game agenda.

When it was over, and Matsuyama had time to reflect, he touched on what it meant for the kids looking up to him in Japan. 

“It’s thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today,” Matsuyama said. “Hopefully in five, 10 years, when they get a little older, some of them will be competing on the world stage.

Don’t get me wrong: We don’t get tired of seeing Tiger and Phil or Dustin and Rory win at Augusta.

Those guys have been around for a while and will almost certainly, hopefully, win again. 

It was time, however, for a new champion to come along — even though his performance was not always remarkable — and grow the game of golf with the next generation. 

Bill Murphy is sports editor at The Times. He can be reached at bmurphy@gainesvilletimes.com.

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