AUGUSTA, Ga. — With a four-shot lead entering the final round, it might be easy to assume Hideki Matsuyama will cruise to his first Masters Tournament title, becoming the first Japanese golfer to win a major championship.
He’s not ready for Butler Cabin just yet, however.
Plenty of good and bad things can happen in the final 18 holes at Augusta National. Just five years ago, Danny Willett rallied from five shots down in the final six holes to claim the green jacket.
Here are five things we learned Saturday as we prepare for a potential historic Sunday in Augusta.
Patrons react after Hideki Matsuyama played a chip on the 18th hole during the third round of The Masters golf tournament. (Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
It would’ve been difficult to predict this kind of performance from Hideki Matsuyama, the No. 25 player in the world. The 54-hole leader has only two top-10s in his last 24 starts on the PGA Tour, going back to March 2020. He’s always enjoyed Augusta National, posting five top-25s in nine Masters appearances, including a low amateur award in his 2011 debut and a sub-72 scoring average over 37 tournament rounds. Not surprisingly, he’s tied for fifth this week in greens in regulation (72.2 pct.) and is top 20 in putting but he’s outside the top 30 in both driving distance and driving accuracy. So pay attention to his tee shots early in the final round as he chases his first victory since the 2017-18 season. If it’s tight late, Matusyama is 12-over in his Masters career on the 18th hole. He found the fairway bunker in the third round but got up-and-down to make his third par on the closing hole this week.
Like champions of the past, Matsuyama is crushing the par-5s, which present vital scoring opportunities at Augusta National. He’s 9-under on the 12 par-5s, thus far, making his third eagle of the week Saturday after a beautiful iron shot into the 15th hole. Of those who started Saturday on the leaderboard, Matsuyama best used the par-5s to his advantage to take a four-shot lead.
Brian Harman chips on the 13th hole during the third round of the 2021 Masters Tournament. (Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
The par-3 4th and par-4 11th are tied as the most difficult greens to hit in regulation this week. The field has found those elusive surfaces only 38 percent of the time this week, which explains why each is among the top-four most difficult holes for the tournament. The beefy 495-yard par-4 No. 5 remains the fiercest test of all, yielding only five birdies through 54 holes and a combined 4.45 stroke average. The field is a cumulative 103-over par on No. 5, hitting the green only 40 percent of the time and needing an average of 1.721 putts to find the hole after reaching it in regulation.
There are five players within five shots of the lead entering the final round and a shortage of recent winning experience between them. Xander Schauffele hasn’t won since the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions. Marc Leishman is on a 14-month drought as he pursues his sixth PGA Tour title. Former World No. 1 Justin Rose claimed the most recent of his 10 victories in January 2019 at Torrey Pines. Corey Conners has won once — the Valero Texas Open in 2019 during the week before the Masters to earn the last spot in the field. Will Zalatoris, in his first season on the PGA Tour, is winless. Rose is the only one of the quintet with a major championship to his credit, winning the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.
There were fewer disasters at Augusta National in the third round, just 15 double bogeys and three others from the 54 players who survived the 36-hole cut. Still, the front left hole location on No. 7, perched just beyond the bunker on a shelf, posed problems for the field. The 450-yard par-4 was the most difficult hole in the third round, playing to a 4.556 stroke average and allowing only two birdies. The field was a cumulative 30-over par. The competitors can expect a much easier endeavor Sunday, assuming the championship committee puts the hole in the traditional location in the front right portion of the green.