Author: Sam Gemini
MADISON– The azaleas were back as the Masters returned to its rightful month of April. Various great players, each surrounded by his own narrative, stepped up to the tee at Tea Olive on Thursday with high hopes. As always, this edition of the Masters had plenty of hyped-up superstars – Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Bryson DeChambeau, to name a few. But nobody expected to witness the show put on by Hideki Matsuyama in his first-ever major championship win. But we’ll get to that – I’d first like to examine some of the subplots of this year’s revered tournament at Augusta.
Another Masters has come and gone, and Rory McIlroy (missed the cut) still doesn’t have the career grand slam. The four-time major champion has been successful at the U.S. Open, the Open Championship (British Open), and twice at the PGA Championship. He has won virtually everything that Tour players care about: the Players Championship, the FedEx Cup (twice), the Memorial Tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, World Golf Championships, Ryder Cups . . . the list goes on and on. He continues to be unable to get over the hump at Augusta – the one dragon he hasn’t slain. Many wonder if the disaster of ten years ago still haunts Rory, when he entered Masters Sunday with a three-shot lead and collapsed spectacularly, posting a jarring score of eighty. Maybe this ghost still follows him – maybe it doesn’t. Either way, with every year that ends without a new jacket in McIlroy’s closet, the feat of the grand slam slips farther into the haze of what could have been for the Northern Irishman.
Another extremely high-profile name that was never near the top of the leaderboard is Bryson DeChambeau. The most unique and innovative player on Tour, the reigning U.S. Open champion’s length off the tee was thought to give him a great chance at brawny Augusta; however, Bryson’s week was only marginally more fun than McIlroy’s. Although DeChambeau did make the cut, the weekend did not improve his mood as he finished the tournament at five-over-par in a tie for forty-sixth. A couple of years ago, Bryson made the remarkably disrespectful statement that due to his prodigious length, Augusta National played like a par-sixty-eight for him. Well, that comment is aging mighty poorly, as this is the second straight Masters that has seen DeChambeau finish significantly over the actual par of seventy-two.
On a more positive note, one player put up a phenomenal performance in his Masters’ debut – young Will Zalatoris. This fresh face was the top player on the Korn Ferry Tour before qualifying for multiple PGA Tour events, competing in his first-ever major in last September’s U.S. Open. His top ten finish in that event at Winged Foot landed him an invitation to Augusta last weekend, and he did not disappoint. Massively hyped and brimming with potential, twenty-four-year-old Zalatoris had an outstanding weekend, playing his way into the final group on Saturday with 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose. Far older and more experienced golfers have shrunk into the corner upon finding themselves on this giant stage, but Zalatoris did no such thing, finishing the tournament strong in solo second place. He is an exciting player to pay attention to in tournaments to come.
And now, of course, the big winner – Hideki Matsuyama. What a massive victory this was, not only for him to win his first major, but for the nation of Japan. No male golfer from Japan had ever won a major before, and Matsuyama did it in style. After a one-hour weather delay on Saturday afternoon, Hideki stormed back onto the golf course and pulled away from the rest of the field, posting the only bogey-free round of the entire tournament. As a result, Matsuyama entered the final day with a four-shot lead, which grew to as many as six on the back nine. Things got a little hairy on the par-five fifteenth when Hideki soared his ball over the green and into the water on his second shot, making bogey and shrinking the lead to just two. He was, however, able to maintain his composure, and this – along with a blundering triple bogey by Xander Schauffele on sixteen – allowed him to carry a two-shot lead into the seventy-second hole, where he two-putted for bogey to win by one with a tournament score of 10 under-par. All that remained was for the previous champion Dustin Johnson to clothe him in the Green Jacket, and Hideki Matsuyama could enjoy his day of glory. Congratulations to the first male Japanese major champion on a splendid performance.