Reporting from Augusta, Ga.
When Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama saw how his college campus had been wrecked by last month’s earthquake and tsunami, he strongly considered sending the Masters a regretful withdrawal.
Eventually, the 19-year-old Asian Amateur champion decided to play. Now he’ll be going home with some prizes.
As the only amateur to survive the Masters cut, Matsuyama already has locked up the silver cup given to the tournament’s low amateur. Saturday, he underscored the achievement with a four-under-par 68 that was one shot off the day’s best.
“I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to encourage the people in Japan by my play,” he said. “But at least I really wanted to make it a good experience.”
By all appearances, he’s managed to accomplish both.
Matsuyama is a sophomore at Tohoku Fukushi University — whose campus in Sendai is part of the area hardest hit by the March 11 disaster. Matsuyama was in Australia on the day of the devastation, doing some spring training with the Fukushi golf team. When he returned to campus, he was saddened by what he saw. Thoughts of calling off the Masters trip went through his mind.
“I talked to my coach,” he said. “We decided we were coming over here. After that, I was able to focus myself to play golf. This is one of the best things I can do to cope with the situation.”
Phil Mickelson’s heart always will be drawn to Augusta National. This year, though, he left his putting stroke in Houston.
One week after he won the Houston Open, Mickelson still hasn’t broken 70 in his Masters title defense. He shot a one-under 71 Saturday, leaving him nine off the lead.
“It’s been a little frustrating on the greens,” said Mickelson, who has needed 93 putts to complete three rounds — tied for fourth-worst among the 49 players to make the cut.
“I putted so well last week at Houston, I expected to come out this week and kind of light it up. And I have struggled getting the right reads; I’ve struggled getting the right speed. . . . I feel like I know the breaks on most of the putts, but I just have struggled getting it going this week.”
Sergio Garcia moved to within striking distance of the lead with three birdies in his first five holes Saturday, but that was as close as he got.
Making the turn at seven under, it all fell apart when Garcia played his next five holes in five over. A six-foot par save skirted the hole at No. 10, followed by a double bogey at the par-four 11th and a bogey at No. 12. A bad second shot at No. 14 added another bogey.
“There’s been some good positive things,” the Spaniard said, “and unfortunately it’s been a really bad nine. Nothing you can do about that.”
Asked what he’ll do to regroup for the final round, Garcia said: “Nothing. I’ll come here an hour before my tee time, I’ll practice, I’ll go out there and I’ll try to do better.”