In case you missed it, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama captured this year’s Masters golf tournament by one shot on Sunday.
According to a news source, there were a surprisingly large number of people who didn’t watch The Masters over the weekend. The first major golf tournament of 2021 pulled a respectable 5.5 rating on Sunday and an estimated 9.5 million television viewers. That marked the lowest number of final round television viewers since the 1993 Masters (won by Germany’s talented but generally stoic golf legend, Bernhard Langer).
The TV ratings were down, but it wasn’t due to the condition of America’s most beautiful golf course.
Augusta National Country Club looked like an “11” on a scale of 1-10 on television this weekend. The azaleas were blooming and even your colorblind scribe could tell how much it brightened the views on so many of the televised holes. Golf fans had a chance to see this lovely layout tucked in the rolling hills of northeast Georgia at its incredibly well manicured peak last weekend.
So, it wasn’t the golf course or the weather which didn’t fetch the usual number of television viewers for this year’s Masters golf tournament. What happened?
Simple. Sunday’s winner was Hikeki Matsuyama (who had just 5 PGA wins prior to earning his first major championship). Next were Will Zalatoris (who dat?) in second, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth in a tie for third followed by John Rahm, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose, and Corey Connors.
Though most viewers are familiar with Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose, the other names at the top of this weekend’s golf tournament are not as well-known to casual golf fans.
It didn’t help matters that Matsuyama had a four shot lead to start the day and, despite making a few key mistakes down the stretch, none of the golfers gave chase. Though a vintage 1986 Jack Nicklaus-type of final round rally never materialized on Sunday, the door was left open for one of the challengers to make it a close finish. It simply didn’t happen.
It was like watching a horse jumping far ahead of the field right out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby and then never seeing another horse give serious chase to catch him. Yes, it made for exceptionally boring television unless you were rooting for the leader.
Swing-for-the fences golfer Bryson DeChambeau faltered on Sunday and finished at +5. Phil Mickelson (now 50) and Justin Thomas both finished at even-par and a whopping ten shots back. The 2020 Masters champion, Dustin Johnson, didn’t even make the cut to play on the weekend.
Tiger Woods never teed it up as he continues rehabbing from what could have been a fatal car wreck near Los Angeles several weeks ago. Tiger is lucky just to be alive and his return to golf is unknown but well down the road.
With leader Hideki Matsuyama sporting a big 4-shot lead starting Round 4 at The Masters Sunday, a few of the pursuers mounted a brief challenge. Just like watching Olympic skiers heading quickly downhill sporting too much momentum, each of Matsuyama’s challengers would crash at some point along the way and hand Japan’s new golf hero his first career major championship by a single shot.
The 29-year old Hideki Matsuyama is no fluke. He had finished in the top six in each of golf’s four major championships. He certainly earned the win and his Green Jacket on Sunday.
Let’s summarize the seven player pack of mostly non-major winners who faltered on Sunday:
- Corey Connors (Canada) went (briefly) to seven under par after the fourth hole and get within four shots of Matsuyama. Alas, Connors would “wipe-out” by bogeying #5 and #6, adding a double bogey on the par-4 #7, and added one more bogey on the par-5 #8 to drop to just 2-under par. He would finish 72 holes at -4 and tied for 8th place.
- Justin Rose (Great Britain) is the 2013 US Open champion and has finished in second at The Masters twice. Translated – he was “due”. In Thursday’s first round, Rose blitzed the field with a sterling 65 to grab a nifty four stroke lead. He remained at -7 after Friday and Saturday’s rounds. On Sunday, though, Justin Rose backed-up with a 2-over par total on the opening nine. Rose never was in the mix on Sunday and finished the day at -5 in a disappointing solo seventh place.
- Marc Leishman (Australia) started tied for second at -7. Like Justin Rose, he also dropped two shots on Sunday’s front nine and would finish at -6 and tied for fifth place.
- John Rahm (Spain) was eleven strokes out of the lead on Sunday as he began the day at even par. With a sizzling 6-under par 66 on Sunday, Rahm improved 16 positions and finished at -6 and tied for fifth place. Rahm’s time for a Green Jacket may come soon.
- Jordan Spieth (US) began the day trailing Matsuyama by six shots. He faltered on the front nine by going 1-over par, but put on a nice rally on the back nine to finish this year’s Masters at -7 and tied for third place. After playing several consecutive weeks, Spieth looked out of gas by the end of play Sunday.
- Xander Schauffele (US) was one of the large group at -7 and four behind leader Matsuyama beginning the day on Sunday. Though just 27 years old, Schauffele already had second place finishes at Augusta (2019) and top ten performances in each of the four major tournaments. Paired with the leader on Sunday, Schauffele was a pedestrian 1-over par through the first 11 holes. Then, from out of nowhere, he birdied #12, 13, 14, and 15 to get to 10-under par and had closed to within 2 shots of Hideki Matsuyama with three holes to go. FINALLY – a horse race to the finish! Well, for about 2 minutes. On the par-3 16th hole, Schauffele went first and dumped his tee shot into the lake. He would take a triple bogey 6 on the hole and eliminate himself from the championship chase. When asked about the tee shot on #16 later, he said, “I was coming in hot. I hit an 8-iron and I flushed it.” Alas, it failed to reach the green and rolled into the lake alongside of the green. Xander Schauffele would finish in a tie for third with Jordan Spieth at -7. I’m sure he will wonder for years whether he should have played a safer 7-iron into the 16th hole and kept the pressure on Matsuyama.
- Will Zalatoris (US) This tall (6’2”) lanky and quite accomplished junior golfer left Wake Forest University after his junior year and hit the mini-tours of professional golf. Slowly but surely, he earned his way up to the big league and has become a very consistent PGA golfer this past season. Playing in his first Masters, Zalatoris got the locals excited with a birdie on #2 to close to within two shots of Hideki Matsuyama. He would do the same thing with a birdie at #17, too. Alas, he would fall one shot short with his -9 finish. His second place finish was the best for a Masters rookie since Dan Pohl did the same thing in 1982 (39 years ago). Will Zalatoris seems to be a very likeable young man with a solid golf game. He is capable of becoming a force in the years to come.
Though the Sunday afternoon conclusion of The Masters was bit of a snoozer, Hideki Matsuyama never lost the lead and became a very deserving first-time Green Jacket winner.