The play of winner Hideki Matsuyama and contender Jordan Spieth confirms that big things could lie ahead at Olympics and PGA
Golf finally seemed to get its mojo back as the first men’s major championship of the season, the Masters, returned to its traditional April slot.
So, unlike Dustin Johnson’s victory in November, at a very different Augusta National to which players and fans alike have become accustomed, the past week’s Masters was played on the course’s typical hard-and-fast conditions. Hideki Matsuyama, the 54-hole leader by four strokes, preserved a one-shot victory to become Japan’s first male major champion.
Once the post-Masters hangover ends, the focus will shift to the next major, next month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
What can we glean from the week in Augusta?
The victory by Matsuyama is not a surprise. He has been the best golfer from Japan for a decade, and victories at the Memorial and World Golf Championships in Akron and China confirmed that he had the game to win a major title.
After a bogey-free 7-under 65 that included a 6-under 30 on the back nine Saturday vaulted Matsuyama in front at Augusta, he should be among the favorites for the rest of the season’s biggest events. That will include not only the three remaining major championships but also the Olympics, which will be held near Tokyo in his native Japan.
“He's got a lot of pressure on himself today,” Jordan Spieth said of Matsuyama. “I remember the feeling on a four-shot lead, and he's got Japan on his back and maybe Asia on his back. I can't imagine kind of how that was trying to sleep on that, even with somebody who's had so much success.”
Entering this season, Spieth had been unable to build on an exceptional record that features four major titles. Since a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, Spieth has qualified for weekend play in his past eight starts, including six top-10 results. In the week before the Masters, he won the recent Valero Texas Open for his first victory since the 2017 British Open.
With a tie for third at the Masters, he extends his run of good play, but it hints at so much more. At age 27, Spieth clearly is back to the form that led him to the top of the world ranking. Though he made mistakes at Augusta National, he should take even more confidence from his latest attempt at a second green jacket.
Spieth lacks only the PGA Championship to complete the career Grand Slam. He seemingly has not been in this good of a position to win the PGA in years, and he will be on the short list of favorites come May in South Carolina.
“I wish that I had the control of my swing that I hope is coming or I think is coming soon, because it would have made things a little easier this week, and I did strike the ball really well,” Spieth said. “I hit a lot of fairways. I put myself in position to hit a lot of greens, and distance control is a strength of mine with iron play, and I did a good job of that.”
It is hard to know what to make of Will Zalatoris. At just 24 years of age, the Wake Forest product tied for sixth in September at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. In finishing solo second at the Masters, one stroke behind Matsuyama, he looked as if he could have been the course’s third architect, with Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie. The slender 6-foot-2-inch, 165-pound Texan looked comfortable in the heat of contention over the weekend. He made few mistakes in finishing so close to victory.
“I think the fact that I'm frustrated I finished second in my third major says something, and the fact that I didn't let any moment really get to me, was really exciting,” Zalatoris said. “And obviously my two majors as a pro, I finished sixth and runner-up. I know if I keep doing what I am doing, I'm going to have a really good chance in the future.”
It’s clear that being world No. 1 means very little once the gun goes off. Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, uncharacteristically missed the cut with three bogeys on his last four holes.
For most of the second half of 2020 and early 2021, Johnson lived up to his ranking as the best player in the world. Johnson will play this week at the RBC Heritage in his native South Carolina, but the real focus will come in five weeks at the second major of the year, the PGA Championship.
Read more of Morning Read's final-round coverage:
Take a bow, Hideki Matsuyama, by Gary Van Sickle
Masters offers clues for upcoming majors in 2021, by Alex Miceli
Jon Rahm rallies for another Masters top-10, by Steve Harmon
Billy Horschel takes second tumble at Augusta's 13 hole, by Steve Harmon
One surprising stat from Matsuyama's victory
See Sunday at Augusta like never before in these photos
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