Hideki Matsuyama has 4-shot lead heading into final round of Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Hideki Matsuyama stands 18 holes away from making history. He’s 18 holes from turning an entire sports-mad nation upside down. The 29-year-old Matsuyama, who shot a bogey-free

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Hideki Matsuyama stands 18 holes away from making history.

He’s 18 holes from turning an entire sports-mad nation upside down.

The 29-year-old Matsuyama, who shot a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 in Saturday’s third round of the Masters and takes a four-shot lead into Sunday’s final round, is not only trying to become the first player from Japan to win a green jacket, but the first to win a men’s major championship.

Matsuyama enters the final round at 11-under par, four shots clear of Justin Rose, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele and Marc Leishman, all of whom are 7-under. Corey Connors is 6-under and Jordan Spieth is 5-under.

Matsuyama can make this perhaps the most significant week in Japanese golf history considering Japan’s Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch it, because I was playing in Texas and didn’t get to see it,’’ Matsuyama said. “I hope I can follow in her shoes and make Japan proud.’’

Hideki Matsuyama
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Japan is a golf-crazed nation, and Matsuyama will carry the weight of that responsibility and pressure into a final round that will be one under much scrutiny.

“This is a new experience for me, being the leader going into the final round of a major,’’ Matsuyama said. “I guess all I can do is relax as much as I can, prepare well and do my best tomorrow.’’

Matsuyama’s best finish in a major was his runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Open. In his career, he has seven finishes in the top 10, six of which were in the top six, four in the top five.

Matsuyama has been inside the top 10 entering the final round of a major championship eight times in his career since 2015 — the most of any player without a win in a major in that span.

Each of the past 31 Masters winners have been in the top five entering the final round. The last time a player came from outside of the top five entering the final round to win the Masters was Nick Faldo in 1989.

The last time a player came back from outside of four shots entering the final round to win a Masters was Faldo in 1996, when he overcame Greg Norman from six shots back.

Sunday’s opportunity to make history was set up by Matsuyama’s dizzying performance on his final 12 holes. He turned a bunched leaderboard into a bunch of players chasing him and scrambling to stay in contention.

After lurking on the leaderboard and making the turn at only 1-under, Matsuyama shot 30 on the back nine. He birdied the 11th hole, then birdied No. 12, eagled the par-5 15th and then birdied Nos. 16 and 17.

As impressive as that stretch was — 7-under-par in 11 holes — it was a par-save on No. 18, where Matsuyama air-mailed his approach shot out the left fairway bunker over the green, that might have been the most impressive.

His ball came to rest in a walkway behind the green, leaving him with a highly delicate pitch shot onto the green, which he executed with aplomb, leaving himself with a stress-free short putt for par to preserve the bogey-free round.

Matsuyama’s torrid stretch of golf coincided with the resumption of play after a 75-minute weather delay with electrical storms in the area. He’d hit his tee shot on the 11th hole when the horn sounded at 4 p.m., calling players off the course.

The rain that fell softened the course just enough that the players were able to fire darts onto the greens that had terrorized them for the better part of the past two days.

“Before the horn blew, I didn’t hit a very good drive,’’ Matsuyama said. “After the restart, I hit pretty much every shot exactly how I wanted to.’’

Matsuyama, who said he spent the weather delay hanging out in his car reading his cell phone, played his final eight holes in 6-under par.

Matsuyama’s virtuoso performance was the first bogey-free round of this Masters and the seventh of his career in majors. Just Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari have posted more than him since 2015 with eight each.

Exactly 10 years ago Saturday, on April 10, 2011, a 19-year-old Matsuyama was awarded the silver cup as the low amateur at the Masters inside the Butler Cabin.

Will he be in that same place having a green jacket slipped over his shoulders, and the shoulders of all Japanese golf fans, by sundown Sunday night?

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Mark Cannizzaro

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