A masterpiece from Hideki Matsuyama to take Masters lead

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Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, walks the the 17th green during the third round of the Masters golf tournament on Saturday, April 10, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The storms that stopped play for a little more than hour Saturday at the Masters were expected. The masterpiece delivered by Hideki Matsuyama after the break was not.

Matsuyama played the final eight holes in 6-under par, turning a two-shot deficit into a four-shot lead. With four flawless swings and three putts late on the back nine at Augusta National, he went from part of a logjam on the leaderboard to the cusp of becoming the first Japanese player to win a major.

The final touch was a superb par save from 25 yards behind the 18th green for a 7-under 65, the only bogey-free round this week at the Masters.

“I wouldn't have believed it,” Matsuyama said through his interpreter. “But I did play well today. And my game plan was carried out, and hopefully, tomorrow I can continue good form.”

It all started in his car, where the 29-year-old waited out the storm delay. Part of the time was playing on his phone. He also thought about his last shot, a drive into trees right of the 11th fairway.

“During the rain delay, I just figured I can't hit anything worse than that,” Matsuyama said. “And so maybe it relieved some pressure. I don't know. But I did hit it well coming in.”

Matsuyama was at 11-under 205, four shots clear of Xander Schauffele (68), Justin Rose (72), Marc Leishman (70) and Masters rookie Will Zalatoris (71).

It was 10 years ago when Matsuyama first played in the Masters as the Asia-Pacific Amateur winner. He learned then he could handle Augusta National as the only amateur to make the cut in 2011, finishing on the same score (1-under 287) as defending champion Phil Mickelson.