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The Telegraph

Reticent superstar becomes Japan’s new hero as millions watch Hideki Matsuyama the master from home

The people of Ehime Prefecture, 13 time zones from Augusta, had woken at 3.40am to see if their golfing icon could become the first Japanese winner of a major. Not that the unsociable hour was an imposition. For when it comes to following Hideki Matsuyama, the reticent superstar with the staccato swing, almost any excess is indulged. Once it was Ryo Ishikawa who had this poster-boy effect, drawing battalions of Tokyo journalists to his every event. But for the past eight years their attention has been monopolised by Matsuyama, who ended their wait for glory with this cussed piece of front-running.. Under suffocating pressure from his 126 million countryfolk, Matsuyama absorbed it all, as his six-shot lead dwindled to one, and even as playing partner Xander Schauffele mounted an almighty back-nine charge. Matsuyama had enjoyed a ceremony inside the Butler Cabin once before, when he was the leading amateur in 2011, but nothing compared to the strain he felt standing on the first tee last with almost his entire nation watching him via the Tokyo Broadcasting System. While he sprayed his opening drive horribly right, straight into the dogwoods, he navigated the stumble nonchalantly, shoring up and quickly extending his lead with a poise his pursuers could not hope to match. A detour into the water at the 15th threatened to derail him, only for Schauffele to implode at the next hole. At the heart of it all, Matsuyama kept his precious sense of peace. Weary of having his every move shadowed by Japanese reporters, he has benefited these past four days from the drastic cuts to reporters on site due to Covid restrictions. “It’s not my favourite thing to do, to stand and answer questions,” he acknowledged. “With fewer media, it has been a lot less stressful for me.” The effect of a clearer head on his golf has been appreciable. In patches at this Masters, Matsuyama has produced brushstrokes the envy of anything painted on golf’s most pristine canvas. When the sirens sounded for a storm that interrupted his Saturday progress, he retired to his car to play video games. He returned to deliver a back nine of 30, a sequence of outrageous quality, where his towering iron shots received their due reward on the rain-soaked greens. As he switched to course management mode for his final round, he remained serene, put at his ease by Schauffele speaking to him in Japanese, a reflection of the Californian’s cultural heritage on his mother’s side.