AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – Japan has been sending golfers to the Masters since 1936, with about three dozen players combining for well over 100 appearances at Augusta National. And none had ever finished around atop the leaderboard.
Hideki Matsuyama’s four-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round of the Masters is a breakthrough moment for Japan, which became the 17th nation to see one of its players hold the lead after any round at Augusta National.
The others, per the Masters: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, Fiji, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United States, Wales, and Zimbabwe.
It was 10 years ago when Matsuyama became the first Asia-Pacific Amateur champion to make the cut and be the low amateur at the Masters. He was the second-lowest amateur finisher to Patrick Cantlay in the Master’s field the following year. Here’s something else to note going into the final round: Matsuyama posted the low fourth-round score at the Masters on two previous occasions.
NO LANGUAGE BARRIER
Xander Schauffele is from San Diego. Hideki Matsuyama is from Japan and needs a translator to help with his interview sessions with English-speaking media.
That doesn’t mean Schauffele and Matsuyama can’t talk on the course.
They were paired in the third round on Saturday and Schauffele – whose grandparents lived in Japan – knows a little bit of the language. “I know a little bit of Japanese,” Schauffele said. “I threw my few words in here and there. Just some good words. Some bad ones, too.”
He can practice his Japanese a little more on Sunday as well. Schauffele and Matsuyama are the final groups at the Masters, going off at 2:40 p.m. “It was delightful playing with Xander today,” Matsuyama said. “We didn’t get a chance to talk a lot, but when we did, we exchanged some good Japanese jokes and had a good laugh.”
Billy Horschel went into the water on the 13th hole at the Masters on Saturday.
He also went onto his backside.
Horschel took a slip-and-slide trip to blooper-reel immortality in the third round at Augusta National after playing his second shot on the par-5 13th into the water – a tributary of Rae’s Creek.
He removed his shoes and socks, rolled up the legs of his white pants to his calves, surveyed the situation, and then made his way barefoot down a slope toward the water. He slipped on the way, his feet going out from under him, and he landed on his butt.
That drew a laugh from the patrons. So did his immediate reaction – turning toward playing partner Phil Mickelson to assess the damage.
Horschel asked Mickelson if there was a grass stain.
Mickelson’s response, as Horschel recalled: “Yeah, there’s one there. Sorry, buddy.”
Horschel played his third out of the water to well above the hole, put his shoes and socks back on, and two-putted for a par that was anything but routine.
“He hit one of the best shots I’ve ever seen,” Mickelson said. “There were two balls in the water that I was looking at; one was half-submerged, one was fully submerged. I thought for sure his ball was the one half submerged. Uh-nuh, he went after that ball fully submerged and got that thing out. It was an incredible golf shot.” Mickelson had a famous slip at a major once, too. He intentionally slipped down a steep dune during the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2015.
It wasn’t the first time Horschel ended up on his backside during a tournament.
This particular story has become part of golf lore: Bay Hill in 2013, Horschel had been getting ribbed by Tiger Woods all week about his leaping ability, so Horschel saw a cooler on the driving range and attempted to jump atop it. As he went airborne, he saw that the cooler’s lid wasn’t precisely on securely.