Fortune often smiles on the winner of a major golf championship, and Hideki Matsuyama can give thanks to big ol’ pine tree should he triumph in the 85th Masters on Sunday.
At 1-under par for the day and 5-under for the tournament Saturday, he teed off on No. 9 at Augusta National and tugged his drive to the left. The pros know “left is dead,” and left off the fairway is impossible.
Matsuyama’s ball hooked into the trees, hit a pine and ricocheted to the right through the straw and back into the first cut. He had a decent lie from a bad shot and took advantage by turning a probably bogey or worse into a par.
Who knows why the ball kicked right with a perfect carom? Who knows why Fred Couples’ ball somehow hung on the shaved bank of Rae’s Creek in the 1992 Masters? Did saving par thanks to a huge break ignite Matsuyama’s sizzling back nine?
Will that fortuitous bounce make a difference in the final analysis Sunday?
Matsuyama is 11-under par with a four-stroke lead heading into the final round.
Watch the Masters today: TV and stream
▪ Sunday: 2-7 p.m., CBS
Masters.com and the ESPN app also will stream the ESPN/CBS coverage along with channels devoted to featured groups, Holes 4, 5 and 6, Amen Corner and Holes 15 and 16. That coverage will begin at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday.
Augusta weather forecast for Sunday
Forecasters predicted no more than three-tenths of an inch of rain, which was enough to take a bit of the fire out of the greens after the Saturday afternoon weather delay. But Augusta National’s sub-air system could firm them up again.
Only isolated showers are forecast for overnight and “pleasant conditions” are expected Sunday. However, Sunday’s winds are expected in the 15-mph range with gusts to 25 during the afternoon. And if there’s anything golfers cannot control, it’s the wind.
Early tee times, like Phil Mickelson had Saturday and will again Sunday, could be a bonus with stronger wind later in the day.
“I’ll need to shoot something in the mid to low 60s, which is still fun to have a chance,” said Mickelson, who shot 69 Saturday and get to even-par 216 for the tournament. “You want that opportunity to do what (Jack) Nicklaus did in ‘86 and shoot 65 and have a chance. I don’t know if that will be good enough, but I’m having a lot of fun.”
He spoke before Matsuyama unleashed his sizzling back nine, leaving Mickelson with no chance in the final round.
What’s the key to Sunday success at the Masters?
If the early rounds provide a clue, go with the guys who are hitting he most greens in regulation. That’s indicative of the best ball-strikers of the week and the opportunity to set up birdie putts.
That means, for the moment, keep an eye on Jordan Spieth (30 of 36 GIR in the first two rounds), Xander Schauffele (29 of 36), Justin Rose (28 of 36), Matsuyama (28 of 36) and Justin Thomas (28 of 36).
Fairway hit? No big deal. Thomas found the short grass off the tee on only 15 of the 28 driving holes in the first two rounds, a tie for 75th in the field of 87. And he’s 5-under par through eight holes in the third round.
Can Tony Finau finally break through?
Since winning a tournament in Puerto Rico in 2016, Tony Finau has finished in the top-10 in 31 events — and he’s still looking for his second career win.
The lack of trophies can be traced to final-round struggles on the greens, but he showed promise over the first two rounds in this Masters. He led the field through two rounds in putts per GIR and average putts per hole.
Alas, he missed a short one for par on the first hole Saturday and fell eight strokes off the past have shooting 73. He is ninth at 3-under 213 for the tournament.
Who is Will Zalatoris?
Former Wake Forest golfer Will Zalatoris, who earned a spot in the final pairing Saturday, has the opportunity to become the first golfer playing in his first Masters to win the championship since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
Who is he?
At the start of 2019, he was ranked 2,006th in the world. One year later, he was up to 672nd. At the start of 2021, he was ranked 59th, and played his way into the Masters with a top-50 ranking that he reached in February.
A California native, he grew up in the Dallas area and competed against the likes to Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and Patrick Cantlay in junior golf. He won the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur.
He has played in 14 events and made the cut in 13 in the season that began in September. He has finished in the top five on five occasions and in the top 25 a total of 10 times, performances that sent him zooming upward in the national rankings.
His 1-under 71 Saturday left him tied for second at 7-under-par 209.
Do major championships matter?
Matsuyama’s four-shot lead probably makes this a moot point, but does having a major title on a resume make a difference?
If so, Justin Rose (U.S. Open) and Jordan Spieth (Masters) have that advantage. But Rose starts the final day four strokes behind and Spieth is six off the pace.
Matsuyama’s win list is not shabby with a pair of WGC titles and the Memorial among his victories. And he’s no stranger to final round pressure in majors; he has a fifth and a T7 at Augusta, a T2 and T10 in the U.S. Open, a T6 in the Open Championship and T4 and T5 in the PGA.
Sunday Masters tee times
10 a.m. — Jim Herman, Adam Scott
10:10 a.m. — Brendon Todd, Jose Maria Olazabal
10:20 a.m. — Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Gary Woodland
10:30 a.m. — Paul Casey, Billy Horschel
10:40 a.m. — Abraham Ancer, Michael Thompson
10:50 a.m. — Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton
11 a.m. — Harris English, Bryson DeChambeau
11:10 a.m. — Jason Kokrak, Louis Oosthuizen
11:20 a.m. — Cameron Champ, Sebastian Munoz
11:40 a.m. — Matt Jones, Collin Morikawa
11:50 a.m. — Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood
Noon — Martin Laird, Bubba Watson
12:10 p.m. — Matt Wallace, Charl Schwartzel
12:20 p.m. — Shane Lowry, Mackenzie Hughes
12:30 p.m. — Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm
12:40 p.m. — Webb Simpson, Joaquin Niemann
12:50 p.m. — Phil Mickelson, Francesco Molinari
1 p.m. — Cameron Smith, Justin Thomas
1:20 p.m. — Viktor Hovland, Ryan Palmer
1:30 p.m. — Henrik Stenson, Stewart Cink
1:40 p.m. — Patrick Reed, Kevin Na
1:50 p.m. — Si Woo Kim, Bernd Wiesberger
2 p.m. — Tony Finau, Robert MacIntyre
2:10 p.m. — Jordan Spieth, Brian Harman
2:20 p.m. — Will Zalatoris, Corey Conners
2:30 p.m. — Marc Leishman, Justin Rose
2:40 p.m. — Hideki Matsuyama, Xander Schauffele
Masters scores, leaderboard
Those who are under par or even heading into Sunday. You can click here for the latest full Masters leaderboard.
Si Woo Kim.......71-69-74—140.......-2