• AFP-Jiji


Hideki Matsuyama unleashed an incredible back-nine shotmaking display to seize a four-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the Masters, putting the Japanese star on the brink of a historic triumph at Augusta National.

Matsuyama, trying to become the first Japanese man to win a major title, fired a seven-under par 65, his career-low 18-hole Masters total and the first bogey-free round of the week, to stand on 11-under 205 after 54 holes.

“It will be a new experience for me being a leader going into the final round of a major,” Matsuyama said. “I guess I’ll relax as best I can and do my best tomorrow.”

England’s Justin Rose, Australian Marc Leishman and Americans Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris shared second on 209.

Matsuyama adapted as lightning-fast Augusta National was softened by rain, taking full advantage by going six-under in a seven-hole stretch of the back nine.

After a 78-minute storm delay, swirling winds vanished and the wet course was receptive. However, slowed greens became tricky to read — except by Matsuyama.

“After the horn blew for the restart, I hit every shot exactly the way I wanted,” Matsuyama said through a translator.

The 29-year-old from Sendai, who had already birdied the par-4 seventh hole, sank 10-foot birdie putts at the par-4 11th and par-3 12th holes.

Matsuyama dropped his approach at the par-5 15th six feet from the hole and made the eagle putt to seize the outright lead.

Matsuyama then landed his tee shot inches from the cup and tapped in for birdie at the par-3 16th and holed a six footer for birdie at the 17th to reach 11-under with a three-shot lead.

World No. 25 Matsuyama found a fairway bunker at the 18th, then sailed a 7-iron 30 yards over the green.

With an uncanny touch, he rolled a chip to two feet and tapped in to complete an epic round.

There was no secret Matsuyama found during the break.

“I spent the hour just sitting in my car looking at my cell phone,” he said.

Matsuyama’s best prior 18-hole Masters score was a 66 in the final round in 2015. He finished fifth, his best showing so far at the event.

Japan’s Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last Saturday and Matsuyama said that she was an inspiration to him this week.

“What she did was fantastic,” he said. “I can follow in her shoes and make Japan proud.”

Matsuyama, who hasn’t won since the 2017 Akron WGC event, has seven top-10 finishes in majors, including a 2017 U.S. Open runner-up effort.

The only Asian man to win a major golf title was South Korea’s Yang Yong-eun at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Of the past 30 Masters champions, 25 of them have come from the final pairing, which will see Matsuyama joined by Schauffele.

Schauffele sank a long eagle putt at 15 after making birdies at the course’s other three par-5 holes in a round of 68.

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion who began the day with a one-stroke lead, opened with back-to-back birdies to reach 9-under but the two-time Masters runner-up needed a long par putt at 18 to fire a second consecutive par 72.

Zalatoris, trying to become the first player to win his Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, fired a 71 while Leishman shot 70.

Canada’s Corey Conners electrified the crowd with a hole-in-one at the 180-yard par-3 sixth on his way to a 68 to stand sixth on 210.

It was the second ace of this year’s Masters. England’s Tommy Fleetwood aced the par-3 16th on Thursday for the first.

Augusta National announced prize money figures Saturday with the same totals as the past two years, the winner taking home $2.07 million from a total purse of $11.5 million.

Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who snapped a four-year win drought last week in San Antonio, struggled to a 72 to stand six off the pace.

Justin Thomas, who would become world No. 1 with a victory, was undone by a triple bogey at the par-5 13th and shot 75 to stand 10 shots adrift.

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