Hideki Matsuyama near lead in quest to be first Japanese major champion
By Paul Newberry
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – In Japan, women's golf is more popular than the men's game.
Hideki Matsuyama wants to change that.
The 24-year-old will go to the final round of the Masters just two shots off the lead after shooting an even-par 72 on Saturday, giving him a shot at becoming the first male Japanese player to win one of golf's biggest championships.
Matsuyama was on his way to the best round of the day until a shaky putter cost him two bogeys in the final three holes.
Still, given the challenging conditions at Augusta National, he's wasn't complaining. He'll be in the next-to-last group Sunday, paired with 58-year-old Bernhard Langer.
"There were very few scores under par," Matsuyama said through a translator. "It was very difficult. To keep my score even par, I'm satisfied."
He understands that a Masters victory would be more than just a personal achievement.
"We have a women's tour in Japan that is very, very popular," Matsuyama said. "Hopefully a major win would give more popularity to the men's tour."
A handful of Japanese golfers have challenged at the Masters.
Shingo Katayama, known for wearing a cowboy-style hat, finished fourth at Augusta in 2009. Toshi Izawa tied for fourth in 2001, a performance that Matsuyama remembers watching on television as a 9-year-old.
"It was an inspiration for me," he said.
Matsuyama is a rising star on the PGA Tour, having already won a couple of times since earning his card in 2014, most recently beating Rickie Fowler in a four-hole playoff at Phoenix two months ago.
Matsuyama finished fifth at the Masters a year ago and moved to Florida to pursue his professional goals. He said it's been a comfortable transition, though the language barrier is a bit of an issue.
"I do need to learn English," Matsuyama said. "I am working very hard, but for some reason it is not sticking in my brain right now. ... Hopefully the more English I learn, the most popular I can become."
He's letting his game do the talking at Augusta National.
That's a language all the patrons can understand.
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