AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Land of the Rising Sun could pull a major double at Augusta National Golf Club.
Last week, 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani of Japan defeated Emilia Migliaccio on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to win the second Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Five days later, 29-year-old Hideki Matsuyama, the best golfer from golf-crazy Japan, grabbed a share of the lead among the early finishers in Thursday’s first round of the 85th Masters.
Matsuyama, a 5-time winner on the PGA Tour and 8-time winner on the japan Golf Tour, signed for a 3-under-par 69 to join Brian Harman at the top of the famous white scoreboards. Matsuyama eagled the eighth hole and birdied the 13th to reach 4 under but bogeyed the 17th.
He could become the first male player from Japan to win a major. Two women from Japan have won majors – Hisako Higuchi (1977 LPGA Championship) and Hinako Shibuno (2019 Women’s British Open).
“What she did was fantastic,” Matsuyama said of Kajitani’s victory. “I wish I could have seen it. I was playing down in Texas, so I wasn’t able to see her play, but hat’s off to her.
“Hopefully, I can follow in her footsteps and make Japan proud.”
In at 70 were 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, Will Zalatoris (who was ranked 483rd exactly one year ago), 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Defending champion and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who shattered scoring records en route to winning the Masters in November, opened with a 74.
“I felt like I played pretty well and got it around pretty well,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m driving it good and putting it good. Just need to dial the irons in a little bit.”
Johnson was joined at 74 by four-time major winner Brooks Koepka and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. Others over-par included Lee Westwood (78), Jason Day (77), four-time major champion Rory McIlroy (76) and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia (76).
Matsuyama, ranked 25th in the world, is 0-for-31 in major championships as a professional and has not won anywhere in the world since 2017. He has seven top-10s in majors, including finishing fifth in the 2015 Masters and tying for seventh in 2016. He also tied for 11th in 2017 and tied for 13th in 2020.
The putter has been his nemesis – he took 29 putts and three-putted the 17th from 15 feet above the hole for his lone bogey. He hit 13 of 18 greens in regulation and 10 of 14 fairways in regulation.
“The greens were firm and fast,” he said. “It was very important to hit your second shot on the proper side of the pin, and I was able to do that. I felt very good about my round today.
“It’s my 10th year (at the Masters), but I’ve never seen the greens so firm and fast. So, it was like a new course for me playing today, and I was fortunate to get it around well.”
Harman tied for third in the Players and tied for fifth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in his past two starts to earn an invitation to the Masters.
He’s not the tallest player or longest player in the game but he’s been solid off the tee and into the greens and been very sharp on and around the greens.
“I think there’s still plenty of room in the game for a guy like me,” Harman said. “I don’t make any bones about not being able to carry it 300, but I don’t think you have to.”