The 85th edition of the US Masters is done and dusted and Hideki Matsuyama has won his first major championship. Steve Rawlings looks back on an historic week...
"Hideki was very close to being a perfect fit but not having won since 2017 was hugely off-putting and his current form was nothing to write home about either. Since finishing 13th at Augusta in November, his 15th at the WGC Workday Championship was his best effort in 10 starts."
As detailed in the In-Play Blog, world number 25 Hideki Matsuyama set himself apart from the rest of the field at the US Masters with a spectacular run in round three after a weather delay.
Birdies at 11 and 12 were followed by an eagle at 15, birdies at 16 and 17, and a magnificent up-and-down for par at 18. With all the other contenders faltering in the vastly different post-rain conditions, Matsuyama was able to establish a four-stroke lead through 54 holes. It was a lead he never really looking like relinquishing, although the margin of victory was as narrow as it gets it the end.
Having begun the final round trading at around 1.9310/11, a poor drive at the first from Matsuyama led to a bogey five and he briefly touched odds-against, but not for long. He recovered the dropped shot at the next hole and his mission was helped considerably by the poor starts made by almost all the main protagonists.
His playing partner in round four, Xander Schauffele, was matched at a low of 3.55 when he birdied the second but he lost his way soon after that with back-to-back bogeys at three and four and a double at five, and the penultimate pairing of Justin Rose and Marc Leishman weren't much better.
Both players bogeyed three of their first seven holes and the only other two players to begin the final round trading at less than 100.099/1 - Corey Conners and Jordan Spieth - also struggled early on so it was left to debutant Will Zalatoris to offer up a threat.
The 24-year-old Californian, who was generally a 150.0149/1 chance before the off, got to within one of the lead after he opened up round four with back-to-back birdies and he was matched at a low of 3.39/4.
For much of the front nine, Zalatoris looked like the only man capable of getting to Matsuyama but bogeys at 10 and 12 saw him slip back. Having looked like a lost cause following the slow start, Schauffele emerged as the big danger.
The pre-tournament 29.028/1 chance rallied well after the poor start, birdying seven and eight, but trailing by eight he still looked like a lost cause as he and Matsuyama stood on the 12th tee. The Japanese star was trading at 1.031/33 with a six-stroke lead over Zalatoris but a bogey four, coupled with a run of birdies by Xander at 12, 13 and 14, saw the gap close to just four and all of a sudden it looked like game on.
For some explicable reason, with the tournament still firmly in his grasp, Matsuyama chose to go for the green in two at the par five 15th. His approach was far too strong and he found the water. Xander very nearly chipped-in for eagle from the greenside bunker but his birdie four was still enough to see the gap close to just two as Matsuyama made six and we looked set for an edgy and exciting finish. We didn't get one.
Within two, Xander was the clear and present danger with three holes to play but he hit a shocking tee-shot on the par three 16, finding the water, and that was the end of that. He went on to make six and although Zalatoris birdied the 15th and 17th before rolling in an eight foot par-save, Matsuyama was able to coast to victory, despite bogeys at three of his last four holes.
The pressure he must have been under to become the first male major winner to come from his golf-loving nation must have been immense. I can't help thinking he was a bit fortunate not to be pressed any harder than he was. Having been six clear with just seven to play, he eventually won by just a stroke.
As detailed in the In-Play Blog, I backed Rose at 25.024/1 during round one before laying him back at 5.24/1 and I traded him back and fore again on Friday so that reduced losses considerably, but it was a quiet event for me - trading-wise.
I felt like Matsuyama was decent price before round four but I couldn't really trust him and maybe, seeing how the event unfolded, I was correct to be cautious. I'll never regret missing out on backing an odds-on winner and I was happy to accept a very small loss on the event.
In addition to the Rose trades, I also backed Phil Mickelson at 5/2 to finish inside the top-30 (he finished tied 21st) so losses were minimal but it was a frustrating week for the Find Me a 100 Winner column with two of the three nearly reaching their first lay-back targets.
All three finished the week inside the top-12 but both Brian Harman and Corey Conners contended strongly and one more birdie at a pivotal point would have seen both trade in single-figures. Harman was matched at a low of 14.013/1 and Conners hit 12.011/1.
Poor putters can and do prosper at Augusta
It's a widely held belief that you need to be a brilliant putter to cope with the fast greens at Augusta but it's something of a fallacy, as this year's result demonstrates perfectly.
This year's first and second, Matsuyama and Zalatoris, began the week ranking 169th and 110th for Strokes Gained Putting on the PGA Tour this season so the putting stats can be largely ignored but approach play is still vital.
At 77.78%, Spieth, who finished third, hit more greens than anyone else throughout the week and eight of the top-10 for the Greens In Regulation rankings finished inside the top-10. Collin Morikawa, who finished tied for 18th, and Tommy Fleetwood, who finished tied for 46th were the two who didn't.
How good a fit was Hideki?
Given he was matched at a high of 80.079/1 before the off but was generally a 70.069/1 chance, he was the 12th winner in-a-row to be trading at less than 100.099/1 before the off and ranking 25th in the world rankings, he was the 36th major winner in-a-row to be ranked inside the top-50 in the world.
And he also fitted the trend of having not won a major previously, following Hideki's success, 15 of the last 21 majors have gone to a first-time major winner.
Hideki had form at the two events I like from a course correlation perspective, with a sixth at the WGC - Mexico Championship and four top-11 finishes at Riviera and with previous Augusta form figures reading 27-54-MC-5-7-11-19-32-13, he had a lovely bank of course form.
As Dave Tindall highlights with the tweet below, he was very close to being a perfect fit but not having won since 2017 was hugely off-putting and his current form was nothing to write home about either. Since finishing 13th at Augusta in November, his 15th at the WGC Workday Championship was his best effort in 10 starts.
A few have asked if Hideki fits the trends:? Dave Tindall (@DaveTindallgolf) April 11, 2021
In world's top 30
Had top 25 at Masters
Made cut year before
Top 5 this season
Top 30 in last 2 starts
Top 15 on Florida Swing
Not won major
Win in US in last two years
And finally, the wait for the first debutant winner since 1979 goes on but it was impossible not to be impressed by Zalatoris and his second was reminiscent of Spieth's debut effort in 2014.
It's a busy week this week with the Austrian Golf Open on the European Tour and the RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour. I'll be back on Tuesday with my previews.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter