But after a sparkling 65 in the third round Saturday — he had an eagle and four birdies in his final eight holes — Matsuyama came into the final round with a healthy cushion atop the leaderboard. He was steady at the start on Sunday, even after the opening-hole bogey. He rebounded with a birdie at the second, then reeled off five pars and cruised into the back nine with a comfortable five-stroke lead.
But as often happens on a Masters Sunday, odd, unforeseen things ensued.
At the par-5 15th hole, Matsuyama sized up a second shot in the fairway that was 227 yards from the flagstick. He said he “flushed” a 4-iron but his golf ball rocketed off the green and scooted into the water behind the hole. It was no small misstep, not with his playing partner Schauffele about to birdie his fourth consecutive hole. Matsuyama did not lose his poise or persistence. Taking a penalty stroke, he prudently chipped to the fringe of the green and two-putted for a bogey.
Schauffele was trailing by only two strokes when the duo stepped on the 16th tee. Still chasing the leader, Schauffele said he felt he had to go for another birdie, but his aggressive tee shot was short of the green and trickled into a pond.
Schauffele said the notoriously swirling Augusta National winds double-crossed him, a familiar rejoinder, and likely an accurate one.
“I hit a good shot; it turned out bad,” Schauffele, who made a triple bogey on the hole, said. “I’ll sleep OK tonight — I might be tossing around a little.”
The turn of events made the Masters rookie Zalatoris the closest pursuer to Matsuyama, especially after Zalatoris made a lengthy, downhill par putt on the 18th hole to finish the final round at nine under par, just two strokes behind Matsuyama.
With two holes left to play, Matsuyama hit a brilliant drive in the middle of the 17th fairway, launched a perfect wedge shot to the middle of the green and two-putted for par. At the 18th hole, he hit another perfect drive but his approach shot faded and landed in the greenside bunker to the right of the green. His recovery from the sand stopped six feet from the hole, but two putts still gave him the championship.