As awesome as Hideki Matsuyama’s first major win was, there were some fun moments from Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, and Will Zalatoris that made the final day a nail-biter.
After sitting with a six-stroke lead for much of Day Four of The Masters, Hideki Matsuyama watched his comfortable margin erode as he had to fight off challenges from Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, Jordan Spieth, and John Rahm as they each ramped up the pressure so they could get a chance at donning that green jacket.
Still, the Japanese golfer remained unflappable on the front nine after a nervous bogey on Hole 1, rallying to secure three necessary birdies that bolstered his assured front-runner status. But the nerves appeared once he progressed to the back nine, starting at Hole 12, moving to disastrous when his ball hit the water at Hole 15, and proceeded with two more bogeys, including his winning shot on 18. The nerves of being on the cusp of his first major were clearly showing when he squandered a chance at par on the last hole. The six-time PGA tour winner only needed one shot to collect his first major title, and conquered those very nerves to become the first Japanese male golfer to win a major.
But there was plenty else to celebrate about men’s golf on Sunday. Here are three big takeaways from the 2021 Masters tournament.
Xander Schauffele’s thrilling challenge in the last moments
If there is one golfer who will feel like The Masters got away from him this time, it will be Xander Schauffele. If Saturday had been Hideki Matsuyama’s day—shooting a thrilling 65 on ‘moving day’—Sunday was Schauffele’s, who looked like he was channeling fearlessness when Matsuyama started tightening up at the 15th hole.
Beginning at Hole 12, the 27-year-old California native dug deep to give the leader a run for his money. Schauffele tightened up the competition by a thrilling two shots, making it look like we were in for a horse race to the finish. All of a sudden, The Masters became a nail-biter and it looked like we might have to replace the ‘first-time major winner’ name with Xander Schauffele. But just like that, the American’s momentum was snatched away as the No. 6 world golfer hit his first triple bogey in a major, watching his own ball splash into the water—like a nightmare repeat of Hideki’s fatal mistake at No. 15—culminating in a three-stroke penalty that evaporated Schauffele’s dream surge.
For the third time in his career, Xander Schauffele had to watch another golfer hoist up the trophy as he smiled through his pain. If anything, the third-place finish for the American showed the brutal, unforgiving nature that defines golf.
However, having contended so many times and with such prodigious talent, it is almost assured that Xander Schauffele’s turn will come and that he will secure a major win sooner rather than later.
Will Zalatoris rookie of the year performance at The Masters
It may have been Will Zalatoris’s first Masters run, but it won’t be be his last. Playing in only his third major, the 24-year-old put on the performance of his life, displaying an audacious confidence that was thrilling to behold.
Whereas the duel between Matsuyama and Schauffele became a test of who could settle their nerves the quickest, Will Zalatoris looked fully energized. One Schauffele took himself out of the mix at the 16th hole, and Hideki Matsuyama looked unsure of recovering from his own debacle from Hole 15, Zalatoris was all of a sudden in contention. Zalatoris completed his spectacular showing with a beautiful 18-foot putt on the last hole, shooting a 70. All he had to do was wait it out to see if the Japanese player would continue his downward spiral and completely erase his lead to match the Texas native’s score of under nine.
If it had come down to a playoff between Zalatoris and Matsuyama, I honestly think the younger golfer would have had the advantage: he seemed to have boundless energy and Matsuyama was showing debilitating nerves that might have completely done him in during a playoff. Fortunately for the Japanese golfer, he never let it get down to the wire, maintaining the one-shot lead he needed to secure the historic win.
However, one thing that The Masters made abundantly clear is that 49th ranked world golfer (Data Golf has him ranked even higher, based on stroke play, at No. 26) Will Zalatoris is a massive talent in the game and will be a huge factor on the PGA Tour.
Jordan Spieth’s comeback is cemented and here to stay
When Jordan Spieth ended his three-and-a-half-year drought with the win at last week’s Valero Texas Open, one of the criticisms was that many of the top players were missing from the field at the smaller tournament.
Jordan Spieth won his first major at the 2015 Masters, becoming the second youngest to do so. After following up this groundbreaking victory with two more majors, Spieth became a superstar on the field, making his slump that began in 2017 baffling. However, after turning things around this year, with four Top 10 finishes and a resurgent game, he’s got the golf world excited again.
However, prior to the Valero win, Spieth has demonstrated a consistent winning form early on at the tournaments he’s played this year, only to watch his exhilarating lead evaporate by day four. Not so, on Sunday. When others were faltering—most especially Justin Rose, who had led with an impressive under seven score on Thursday—Spieth answered the call by clocking in four birdies on the back nine that put him in serious contention during the turbulent last holes at Augusta.
In short, Jordan Spieth thrilled once again. And the comeback is very real. He is a contender at majors once more and is on his way to collecting his fourth major.
The 2021 Masters was anything but predictable, with Hideki Matsuyama becoming the sixth first-time Masters winner in the last seven years. It was a historic first for a player who has changed his swing and been nipping at the bit for some time to reach this pinnacle of his career. But The 2021 Masters also demonstrated that the talent pool in the PGA is resplendent with resilient players who will continue to make their mark on the Tour.