With stellar ball-striking and a command of Augusta National unmatched by anyone in the field over the final two rounds, Hideki Matsuyama (-10) converted a 54-hole lead into his first green jacket and major championship, winning the 2021 Masters by one stroke on Sunday. Matsuyama's victory in this 85th Masters is not only his first green jacket but the first major championship won by a Japanese men's golfer and only the second ever captured by a men's golfer from an Asian nation (Y.E. Yang of South Korea, 2009 PGA Championship).
"I'm really happy," Matsuyama said bluntly at the onset of the green jacket ceremony inside Butler Cabin after the final round.
Masters rookie Will Zalatoris (-9) finished as the runner-up by in a breakout moment for the 24-year old. He was followed by a pair of major championship leaderboard regulars as Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele tied for third at 7 under. Both Spieth and Schauffele had highlights on Sunday that suggested they could make a run at a green jacket, but each also had mistakes that cost them a real shot to win.
Matsuyama started the day with a four-stroke lead, saw it cut to just one before growing to as many as six strokes until he found the water on No. 15 and made things interesting down the stretch. But at every turn of this wild Sunday, Matsuyama seemed to have answers, and that was especially on display during his birdies at No. 9 and No. 13.
Though he has consistently been in contention at majors over the last few years, Matsuyama previously struggled to get the job done over weekend as he carried the weight and hopes of a nation on his shoulders. From 2015-17, he achieved top-five finishes in four majors, including a fifth-place positioning at Augusta National in 2015. That's what sparked Matsuyama's emergence as one of the top golfers in the world. He spent much of 2017 in the top five of the Official World Golf Rankings, even reaching No. 2 twice after top-five finishes at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship that year.
It's been a bit of a grind for Matsuyama to make it back to this point as Sunday's victory is his first since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2017. Long regarded as one of the elite ball-strikers in the game, Matsuyama was able to put it all together on the greens with impressive putting performances on the weekend to put the victory on ice.
"Hopefully, I'll be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese will follow," he said Sunday on CBS. "I'm proud to be able to open the floodgates, finally, and many others will follow me."
With Matsuyama, the Masters gets its sixth first-time winner in the last seven years, the only exception being Tiger Woods' epic win in 2019. Five of those six newly-minted champions had not won a major prior to slipping on the green jacket, the exception being Dustin Johnson winning his second major at Augusta National in November 2020.
Matsuyama also cements his place in history as the first Japan-born Masters winner and men's major champion with his victory occuring 10 years after he first appeared at Augusta National as a 19-year-old amateur. He finished T27 in that Masters, scoring a 4-under 68 on Sunday to collect the low-amateur trophy in a ceremony alongside Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
A decade later, it is Matsuyama slipping on the green jacket after a Masters win for the ages just one week after fellow Japanese golfer Tsubasa Kajitani captured the second annual Augusta National Women's Amateur.
Here's how the rest of the leaderboard shook out behind Matsuyama:
2. Will Zalatoris (-9): The only golfer in the field to record four rounds under par at the 2021 Masters, Zalatoris has put the world of golf on notice. His confidence and ability to remain unfazed in these high-pressure weekend situations even as a rookie are noted and we should expect the 24-year-old to be a factor on the PGA Tour for years to come. This is only his third major championship start, and he's already got two top-10 finishes with this week's runner-up following a T6 at the 2020 U.S. Open.
T3. Xander Schauffele (-7): A triple bogey on No. 16 will remain a haunting detail of Schauffele's final round, especially with Matsuyama bogeying the final hole to finish with a winning score just three strokes better than Xander's final spot. Schauffele had the goods at times, but a double-bogey at No. 5 along with the triple at No. 16 ultimately kept him from winning his first major championship. This is Schauffele's eighth top-10 finish at a major championship and sixth top-five finish, falling just short of his T2 in 2019 in terms of Masters finishes.
T3. Jordan Spieth (-7): Even though he didn't win, this week should be considered a victory for Spieth. The scoring conditions required a grinder and Spieth fits the mold for someone who can win more than he loses over 72 holes in that situation. He had a triple bogey, a double bogey and eight bogeys on the week but always seemed to have answers with 18 birdies and one eagle.
T5. Jon Rahm (-6): The man himself seemed to scoff at the notion that this leaderboard finish represented his proximity to victory, telling Amanda Balionis that while he's logged plenty of good finishes at the Masters he's only once felt like he had a shot, late in the round on Sunday in 2018. Rahm will win the Masters one day because his game and his appreciation for Augusta National are too strong to not have it break his way at some point. But three straight rounds of 72 kept the round of the day on Sunday from being good enough to really put pressure on the leader.
T5. Marc Leishman (-6): Another strong major finish for Leishman, who now has three top-10 finishes at the Masters since 2013 and six top-10 finishes in majors. Leishman tied a record for par-5 scoring in the November 2020 edition of this tournament, but mistakes elsewhere left him T13, so this week has to be viewed as a step forward for him.
7. Justin Rose (-5): The 18-hole and 36-hole leader will no doubt be frustrated that he was never able to match the magic that he showed during his round of 65 on Thursday. But the advantage that he created in that opening round by going low while so many struggled to score allowed him to log his sixth top-10 finish at the Masters and seventh consecutive year with at least one top-10 finish in a major championship.
T8. Patrick Reed, Corey Conners (-4): Two golfers that went opposite directions on Sunday to end up in the same spot on the leaderboard. Conners started the day in striking distance of Matsuyama but faded from contention with a two-over round of 74 while Reed had his best round of the week to jump into the top-10 with a 69.
T10. Cameron Smith, Tony Finau (-3): A final-round 70 gives Cam Smith his third top-10 finish in the last four years of Masters starts, joining the T2 from November 2020 and a T5 finish in 2018. Finau, likewise, has three top-10 finishes at the Masters in four starts, with Sunday's even par round of 72 giving him a second T10 to go with his T5 finish in 2019.
Check out the complete leaderboard from the 85th Masters.