Masters 2021: Hideki Matsuyama seizes control at Augusta

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Jay Busbee
·4 min read
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AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 10: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates with his caddie Shota Hayafuji after finishing on the 18th green during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 10: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates with his caddie Shota Hayafuji after finishing on the 18th green during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Moving Day at The Masters always brings wild momentum shifts, but it’s been awhile since Augusta National has seen a 90-second stretch quite like what unfolded at about 6:22 p.m. Eastern. 

With the shadows long and the rain sprinkling, Justin Rose, Will Zalatoris and Hideki Matsuyama stood tied at 7-under. Matsuyama and his playing partner, Xander Schauffele (-5), were on the par-5 15th, while Rose and Zalatoris were back at the 12th. The leaderboard was tight, but it was about to burst wide open.

First, Schauffele drained an astounding 61-foot eagle, putting him into a four-way tie for the lead. 

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Seconds later, over on 12, Rose retook the lead at -8 with a steady 27-foot birdie putt. But Rose’s hold on the lead lasted for only a few seconds, as Matsuyama capitalized on a brilliant approach to hole a six-foot eagle putt and take the lead at -9. 

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Zalatoris, meanwhile, rolled in a routine par on 12 … and suddenly found himself two strokes out of the lead. It didn't take long for him to have some company.

Matsuyama, who started the day three back of Rose, the 36-hole leader, stepped on the gas. He birdied 16, then 17. And when Rose gave one back at 16, Matsuyama was suddenly four clear of the field heading into Sunday's final round. 

A 77-minute rain delay softened up the course, and no one took advantage quite like Matsuyama, who finished the day with a 7-under 65, matching the best round of this tournament so far. (How did he spend the rain delay? "Played a lot of games on the cell phone," he said.)

"Before the horn blew, I didn't hit a very good drive," Matsuyama said, "but after the horn blew for the restart, I hit practically every shot exactly how I wanted to."

Rose, meanwhile, was unable to take advantage of the kind conditions. A late, steel-nerves par save on 18 kept him within four strokes, but he still ended with a straight-par 72 to stay at -7.

Further down the leaderboard, big names failed to follow in Matsuyama's wake. Jordan Spieth also ended the day where he began: at -5, giving away strokes despite some brilliant saves. Justin Thomas detonated on the 13th, triple-bogeying to eject from the competition. And Bryson DeChambeau, who scorched the back half of the course Friday to revive his hopes, floundered just about everywhere Saturday, limping home with a 75 to pretty much take himself out of contention.

As for Matsuyama, he will now have the eyes of an entire nation on him. No Japanese player had ever held the lead after any round at Augusta. Until Saturday. And no male Japanese player has ever won a major. 

"I did play well today," he said. "And my game plan was carried out, and hopefully [Sunday] I can continue good form."

Matsuyama has made a habit of putting himself in contention. He's finished second at the U.S. Open, fourth at the PGA, fifth at the Masters and sixth at The Open. But he's never won.

The largest lead ever overcome in a Masters came in 1956, when Jack Burke Jr. erased an eight-stroke deficit to run down Ken Venturi. Matsuyama will have an entire field pursuing him, but all the closest ones — Rose, Schauffele, Zalatoris and Marc Leishman — are four strokes back. 

We already knew there would be a new Masters champion when Dustin Johnson imploded on Friday. But now it’s looking an awful lot like we’ll have a first-time winner, too.

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