AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama stormed home in style to put himself in position to become the first Asian golfer to win the Masters as he held a four-shot lead after the rain-interrupted third round at Augusta National on Saturday.
Matsuyama, who began the day three shots behind overnight leader Justin Rose, played eight holes after a 78-minute weather delay and went a sizzling six under over that stretch for a seven-under-par 65 that brought him to 11 under.
“Before the horn blew I didn’t hit a very good drive, but after the horn blew for the restart I hit practically every shot exactly how I wanted to,” Matsuyama, whose last PGA Tour win came in 2017, said through an interpreter.
“This will be a new experience for me being a leader going into the final round in a major. I guess all I can do is just relax tonight, prepare well and just do my best tomorrow.”
Rose (72), seeking his first Green Jacket after a pair of close calls, was in a four-way share of second place with Xander Schauffele (68), Australian Marc Leishman (70) and Masters debutant Will Zalatoris (71).
World number 25 Matsuyama stormed through Amen Corner with a pair of birdies and then started to pull away from the field with an eagle at the par-five 15th to grab the outright lead following a magnificent approach.
Matsuyama then birdied the next two holes before capping the first bogey-free round of the week with a par to set a target nobody could catch as he became the first player from Japan to lead after any round of the Masters.
It also marked Matsuyama’s best round in his 10 Masters appearances by one shot.
Rose, seeking his first Masters victory after a pair of runner-up finishes, had been in control all week and led by two shots moments after play resumed but was out of sync and unable to take advantage of rain-softened conditions.
The 40-year-old Englishman made a birdie-birdie start to build an early three-shot lead but then made consecutive bogeys from the par-three fourth before the inclement weather moved in while he was playing the seventh hole.
Rose returned and mixed one birdie with a bogey at the par-three 16th and then made a clutch 17-foot par save at the last hole where he sent his drive into the pine straw right of the fairway before missing the green with his second shot.
“I didn’t play well enough today, simple as that really,” said Rose. “I think all in all, to have a shot tomorrow, I’m delighted. Have that freedom to take a run at it, and of course I’d love to kind of stay with it just a little bit better.”
Corey Conners used an eight iron to make a hole-in-one at the 180-yard, par-three sixth hole that helped put the Canadian in contention heading into the final round where he will start five shots back from Matsuyama.
“Didn’t seem like the wind was helping as much as I had anticipated, but fortunately, it flew far enough,” said Conners, whose ball took a few bounces before disappearing in the cup.
“I think I hit the pin with a little bit of steam, but it was right in the middle. So pretty special moment.”
Former champion Jordan Spieth (72), who came into the week among the favourites after snapping a nearly four-year victory drought, was six shots back after a round that included four birdies, two bogeys and an double-bogey.
Schauffele, who drained a 61-foot eagle putt at the par-five 15th that gave him a brief share of the lead until playing competitor Matsuyama made his eagle, will be in the final group for Sunday’s final round.
“My dinner will taste a little better,” Schauffele said after making some key putts down the stretch and an up-and-down for par at the penultimate hole. “It wasn’t quite as nice as Hideki’s cleanup there on the last few holes, but I’ll take it.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by Toby Davis, Pritha Sarkar and Daniel Wallis)