AUGUSTA, Georgia – For the first nine holes on Saturday, the Masters standings were packed. Then, after a weather delay, Hideki Matsuyama blistered the second nine at Augusta National, shooting 30 on his way to a 7-under-65 in the only lap without a bogey at that location this year.
So can someone catch it? If so, who?
We tackle the biggest questions ahead of the final round at Augusta National:
How much did an hour of rain on Saturday change this Masters?
Bob Harig: It would be hard to say it was anything other than huge. Matsuyama jumped up and the momentum stopped for Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. The last two were in the thick of it when the horn sounded, but there was little they could do afterwards. Thomas played the last nine holes in 3 over par, including a triple bogey 8 on the 13th hole that led to a 75; he said it was like playing two different courses. Spieth did a nice birdie in the 10th but was able to pull one more to go with a compensated bogey at post 72. Meanwhile, Matsuyama got hot, making an eagle and four birdies and adjusting better than anyone else to softened conditions that seemed to confuse others while allowing him to excel.
Michael Collins: The delay changed everything – and didn’t change anything at all. Momentum is not easily quantified. What he did was slow down the greens. Matsuyama adjusted the fastest. If there had been no delay, would this have happened? It’s a movie that Disney has to make on a parallel universe.
Wright Thompson: There’s a bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc (shout out “West Wing” fans) here, because it’s unclear whether Matsuyama’s push was due to the delay or his comfort with the last holes. But it’s impossible to ignore his run when the rain stopped and he got out of his car into the parking lot, where he spent the time scrolling his phone. The rainy hour changed the Saturday round a lot, it seems.
Mark Schlabach: What was amazing to me was that some players like Matsuyama took advantage of the more friendly conditions and adjusted quickly. While other players such as Thomas, Spieth, Tony Finau and Justin Rose struggled to adjust to the slower greens. I don’t think there is any doubt that the long delay slowed down JT and Rose and others, but they were all playing the same course. I find it ironic that Matsuyama, who isn’t really known for his wagering prowess, managed to figure it out better than everyone else.
Nick Pietruszkiewicz: Before it rained, Rose was down 7 cents and had a one-shot lead. The course was super fast. When the players returned they found a completely different Augusta National. The place was receptive. Approach shots that hit and crossed the green before the onset of the rains are now controlled. Downhill putts shouldn’t be a cautious exercise. And Matsuyama took the opportunity and put on a show. Is it fair to say it was all because of the rain? No. But … he had 1 sub through 10 holes before the course changed. He played the last eight, all after the break, in 6 under.
Who in this ranking has the best chance of chasing Hideki Matsuyama?
Harig: Xander ScHotele. He is the highest ranked 6th in the world and a four-time winner who has played in several major tournaments, and he has the advantage of playing with Matsuyama. Being in this latter group gives ScHotele an advantage, as he can see the player he needs to beat up close.
Collins: Heats up. He tends towards a very low round. Now that he’s in the final group with Matsuyama, he might be the one to put the most pressure on quickly if Matsuyama slips. ScHotele will not be afraid of the moment.
Thompson: I’m going to say Will Zalatoris, because I want it to be true. I have no factual basis for this, just a deep love for the underdog and a tendency to let feelings like that trump logic.
Schlabach: I was tempted to take ScHotele before the tournament started but again resisted the bait. But the guy has to win a major at some point, right? He’s too talented and been there too many times not to have won at least one by now. He’s been seven in the top 10 in majors during his career, including the top six in each of his US Open debuts. He finished tied for second behind Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters and tied for 17th in November. Sc Chaudele called the process near-misses. I think he can’t wait to be in the final group on Sunday.
Pietruszkiewicz: Logic, and most of the rest of that crew, says ScHotele. I am with them. While he doesn’t have a win here, he has a solid history: After a T-50 in his first appearance, he had a T-2 and a T-17 in the last two. And ScHotele is one of the few within the reasonable four-stroke margin. Plus, an early bird-bogey swap with Matsuyama hastily changes everything.
Jordan Spieth escapes trouble with an unreal shot from the trees to set up a birdie on the 8th hole.
Who among the top 10 in the ranking do you trust the least?
Harig: It’s hard to get past anyone with more than four shots back, as it takes a lot to try and catch a player from so far behind. So, out of the four players who are at -7, the pick is Zalatoris, just because it’s his first Masters, and those who are here for the first time usually don’t win. It has been 42 years since such an event, in fact. Zalatoris has proven to be more than capable on this stage, placing sixth at the US Open and having performed very well in his first appearance at Augusta National. But the pressure of the pines and the Sunday Masters is a lot to overcome.
Collins: Corey Conners. He doesn’t hit enough greens and just puts OK. I find it hard to believe that he is the one who will catch the lightning in a bottle instead of crashing.
Thompson: Will Zalatoris. Sigh.
Schlabach: Dare I say Matsuyama? He hasn’t won for over three years; his last victory was at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2017. This is only the second time he has finished a major round with a lead; he shared the 36-hole lead at the 2017 PGA Championship and finished tied for fifth. What worries me the most about Matsuyama is his putter. He entered the Masters in 166th place for strokes won: putting (-296 strokes). Obviously, he took advantage of the slower, smoother greens after the rain was delayed and only needed 25 putts in the third round, which was tied with Abraham Ancer to say the least in the field. On Sunday, Augusta National’s greens will be firmer and faster, and pin locations will be much more treacherous. Plus, his nerves will shoot all cylinders.
Pietruszkiewicz: I know last week’s victory at the Valero Texas Open is supposed to give me more confidence in Spieth. For some reason this is not the case. Did you see some of the places he hit him on Saturday? You can’t ask for the act of magic too often around Augusta National. Eventually the big numbers show up – and he already has a triple and a double on the card this week. So, no, I don’t trust him.
How far is it too far?
Harig: No one wins with more than six shots back. There are too many players to face even though Matsuyama is struggling. That said, I like that Justin Rose shoots a small number, like he did on Thursday. He struggled a bit to hold the lead, shooting 72-72 after his first 65. He’s now four back, knows and loves the course, and is well aware he can do a small number. And he probably will have to.
Collins: Spieth at 5 sous is on the edge. Does he seem like a guy ready to give up the second round of 65 without a bogey this week at the Masters? (That’s what Matsuyama did on Saturday). If you answered yes, you are either related to him or to his younger brother. Sc Chaudele is the one who I think will shoot 66 on Sunday and force Matsuyama to call his big round on Saturday.
Thompson: I think 4 under is too far back and with that reasoning I think Spieth can load up on Sunday. He’s been on top and bottom, and the ascent process, facing the strong headwinds of fame and expectation, has certainly brought some toughness, self-awareness and confidence.
Schlabach: It’s probably 6 shots back if Matsuyama struggles and doesn’t make me look like a model. Spieth is the only guy with a green jacket and the only contestant to win last year. But he’s going to have to putt better than he has so far.
Pietruszkiewicz: History suggests that only four players – ScHotele, Rose, Zalatoris and Marc Leishman – stand a chance. They all stand within four shots of Matsuyama. No player has come back from more than four backs since Nick Faldo won the green jacket in the Greg Norman collapse in 1996. The last winner of any major over four shots back is Phil Mickelson at the Open in 2013 at Muirfield. But let’s get out of logic. Why? Well why not? So … do you remember how I said I don’t trust Spieth? Well, he’s also the one that I think can do the Sunday charge and put the electricity in the room. He is the one who can make sure that this reduced number of customers makes enough noise to keep Augusta National full. If anyone comes from far, it’s Spieth. So that means my answer is 6 shots back is the limit.
OK, who wins?
Harig: Heats up in a weirdly good place. He has nothing to lose. Four hits is a lot to catch up on. He hasn’t won for over two years despite several changes. He’ll have to hit a lot more greens than on Saturday (11), but ScHotele certainly has the ability to shoot a low – and might need Matsuyama’s help.
Collins: Matsuyama. He doesn’t let bad moves bother him and is inspired by Tsubasa Kajitani, the 17-year-old who won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last week just before the opening of this Masters.
Thompson: Matsuyama. It’s due and ready for the spotlight.
Schlabach: Heats up. The guy moved on due to winning a major. He liked to play with Matsyuama Burning Saturday; he will particularly like to chase him on Sunday. I think ScHotele learned from his mistakes in the final round in 2019.
Pietruszkiewicz: Heats up. He’s been here before. He got closer. And being forced to be aggressive from the start might help. He has to play chase if he wants a green jacket. He posted a score of 4-under 68 on Saturday. I think he goes a few strokes lower on Sunday and wins.