How and why did Hideki Matsuyama win the 2021 Masters?

The 29-year-old completed a one shot victory over Will Zalatoris at Augusta National to become Japan’s first winner of a men’s Major Championship.

There were a few late wobbles, but Hideki Matsuyama claimed the 2021 Masters by one shot from Will Zalatoris.

The 29-year-old became Japan's first winner of a Major Championship in the men's game and, as such, his already giddy fame back home will be launched into the stratosphere.

His final round began with one errant shot, and it ended with a couple more, but he had banked the right to use them late-on throughout the first 54 holes of the tournament.

For the most part his Sunday golf was a continuation of his excellence all week: he was bold from the tee, aggressive with his approaches, delicate around the greens and holed plenty of putts.

His final total of 10-under 278 left him one clear of Zalatoris and three in front of Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele.

Let's take a closer look at the breakthrough victory.

No form, but it all turned around

2021 had been hard for Matsuyama. In 10 starts ahead of his arrival at Augusta he'd made only three top 25s and had a best finish of just T15th.

Matsuyama presented with Green Jacket

"It's been a struggle recently," he admitted. "No top 10s, haven't even contended. So I came here with little or no expectations."

That all changed in practice on Wednesday: "I felt something again. I found something in my swing and, when that happens, the confidence returns. I started the tournament with a lot of confidence."

Minimised the errors

Sure, he opened the final round with a bogey and added another four dropped shots, three of them in the last four holes, but he'd earned that right in making just four bogeys through the first 54 holes.

Masters publicity demands that we focus on birdies and eagles - and they are, of course, required - but the avoidance of bogeys and the ability to minimise big numbers is crucial.

Matsuyama was the 12th winner in the last 14 Masters tournaments to keep his bogey and worse count in single figures - and he was the eighth winner in 12 to record the lowest bogey count.

And as hare-brained as the approach to 15 was, what came next was smart: his pitch didn't make the green, but it took a really big number out of the equation.

Matsuyama and caddie Shota Hayafuji share a strong bond.
Matsuyama and caddie Shota Hayafuji share a strong bond.

Afterwards, his playing partner over the last 36 holes, Xander Schauffele, said: "Man, he was something else. He played like a winner needs to play. He was like a robot."

Moving Day time out

Matsuyama was 1-under through 10 holes in the third round, part of the chasing pack, but he flailed his tee shot at the 11th hole into the trees, completing the move horribly unbalanced, with only one hand on the club, leaving himself a horrible recovery to the famously treacherous green.

Whereupon the weather intervened.

The threat of lightning forced the players off the course and, while Matsuyama did nothing more than look at his cell-phone in his car during the one hour break, it worked wonders.

His approach shot at 11 required him to hit the ball below overhanging branches and it avoided them by inches, flying to the heart of the green, finishing 19-feet from the flag and he didn't waste the opportunity: he holed for birdie.

He would complete the final eight holes of the third round in 6-under-par, opening up that critical four shot advantage over the field.

Short game skills

Late on Saturday, flying high on adrenalin, Matsuyama launched his fairway bunker approach to the final green clear over the back of the green, leaving himself a horrible 25-yard pitch from a downhill lie, through a shallow valley, to a speedy green that was falling away from him.

The huge gains he had made on the field all afternoon were suddenly threatened and the chasers sniffed the possibility of a late slip that might eat away at him overnight.

But he was having none of it.

His touch was exquisite and the pitch left him a tap-in par. It was not the first or last time that he stopped the rot in outstanding fashion.

Flying under the radar

Don't discount the impact Covid restrictions had on this win. Matsuyama is typically followed around at all Major Championship by a Japanese media scrum that can be somewhat overwhelming for a fellow who doesn't enjoy the limelight.

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After Saturday's round he was asked about the smaller press posse surrounding him this week and said: "I'm not sure how to answer this in a good way, but being in front of the media is still difficult.

"I'm glad the media are here covering it, but it's not my favourite thing to do, to stand and answer questions. With fewer media, it's been a lot less stressful for me and I've enjoyed this week."

The stats

Matsuyama ranked fourth for SG: Approach in the week, a fifth winner in the last seven tournaments to end the week top five in that category.

His traditional numbers were also on trend with past champions.

He ranked seventh for Greens in Regulation, making it nine of the last 10 to have ranked top seven.

He was eighth for Scrambling - nine of the last 10 winners have been top 20.

And he was 26th for Putting Average - the last 10 have all ranked top 30 with their first putts in regulation.

What next - for Matsuyama?

In the immediate aftermath of victory Butch Harmon, on commentary, predicted further Major Championship success for him.

It's a tricky business, because the same thing was said with conviction of both Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia after Masters success - and of Justin Rose, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson and Justin Thomas after their first Major wins. The second wins have not been forthcoming.

In the giddy moments after the win it's understandable, but in the cold light of morning reality bites: there are only four Majors a year. We'd need 12 a year to fulfil all the dizzy predictions.

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Which is not to say that Matsuyama cannot win more and if he does they are likely to come soon: multiple winners of the Majors reap at speed during sweet spots; if he's to be a force, it will be in the next two or three seasons.

Matsuyama has been boosted to 33/1 to win the PGA Championship with Paddy Power.

What next - for Asian golf?

The potential for Asian golf is massive, on and off the course - and also in regular tournaments and future Majors.

Kevin Na returned to the course to witness the win and said, "It's a big deal, huge for Asia. Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim, hopefully myself, we can win more of these."

The inspiration factor could be huge. Anirban Lahiri tweeted his congratulations with an added line saying: "Time for us all to step up."

Paddy Power prices for the PGA Championship: Sungjae Im 66/1, Si Woo Kim 66/1, Kevin Na 125/1, Byeong Hun An 150/1.

READ MORE: 11 fascinating facts about new Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama

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