World’s finest jiu-jitsu fighters land in Abu Dhabi after a challenging year

World’s finest jiu-jitsu fighters land in Abu Dhabi after a challenging year
Joao Gabriel Sousa (left) of Brazil is back in Abu Dhabi after winning a gold in 2019. (UAEJJF)
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Updated 29 March 2021

World’s finest jiu-jitsu fighters land in Abu Dhabi after a challenging year

World’s finest jiu-jitsu fighters land in Abu Dhabi after a challenging year
  • The 12th Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship takes place on April 6-9  

DUBAI: After a stop-start year that has disrupted almost all sporting competitions around the globe, the world’s finest fighters have been landing in the UAE capital for the 12th Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship (ADWPJJC), the largest and most prestigious event on the global jiu-jitsu calendar.

The event will take place at the Jiu-Jitsu Arena from April 6-9.

Brazilian Joao Gabriel Sousa, winner of the gold medal in the 62-kg class in 2019, said that he was extremely happy about the decision of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) to ensure the tournament went ahead despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The ADWPJJC is the biggest show in the season and one tournament that I simply do not miss,” he said. “The quality of the athletes is excellent, the event is very well organised, and it is a tournament where you can really test yourself against the best in the world. I am really looking forward to competing in Abu Dhabi.”

Sousa’s compatriot and the 90-kg gold medallist two years ago, Gabrieli Pessanha, said she was looking forward to another strong performance at this year’s competition.

“Winning the gold medal in 2019 was very special and I want to do it again at a tournament as prestigious as the ADWPJJC,” the Brazilian 19-year-old black belt said. “This is the best championship to test yourself against the strongest fighters from all over the world and I love competing in Abu Dhabi.”

Another black belt who has already booked his ticket to Abu Dhabi is Poland’s Adam Wardzinski who won silver in the 94-kg weight class at the last two tournaments and is looking to go one better this time.

“It has been a very challenging year for all sportspersons and I am really happy that the UAEJJF have not stopped their efforts to organise this prestigious tournament,” Wardzinski said. “I have really happy memories of competing in Abu Dhabi. The ADWPJJC brings together the best of our sport’s talent and is the perfect place for a serious athlete to improve his game and also test himself against athletes he wouldn’t normally face.”

The ADWPJJC will be held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. It will offer a total prize fund of AED 2.7 million ($735,000).

The tournament will be held behind closed doors, with all participating athletes, officials, administrators, and staff undergoing regular PCR testing and adhering to social distancing and the wearing of masks.

The action kicks off on Tuesday, April 6, with athletes in the under-18 and under-21 categories taking to the mats, followed by the masters on April 7. The final two days are reserved for action in the professional category.


Stoffel Vandoorne recovers to claim Rome E-Prix victory for Mercedes-EQ in round four of the Formula E season

Stoffel Vandoorne recovers to claim Rome E-Prix victory for Mercedes-EQ in round four of the Formula E season
Updated 12 April 2021

Stoffel Vandoorne recovers to claim Rome E-Prix victory for Mercedes-EQ in round four of the Formula E season

Stoffel Vandoorne recovers to claim Rome E-Prix victory for Mercedes-EQ in round four of the Formula E season
  • The Belgian driver had suffered a crash in round three on Saturday

JEDDAH: The Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team is celebrating a belatedly successful weekend which saw Stoffel Vandoorne taking first place at the Rome E-Prix, leaving him and team-mate Nyck de Vries fourth and fifth respectively in the drivers’ table after the completion of rounds three and four of the season in Italy.

“What an amazing victory,” Vandoorne said.

“It makes up for what happened (on Saturday). To end the weekend on such a high today feels fantastic.”

The Belgian driver redeemed himself with a win after an unfortunate retirement in first race of the Rome E-Prix double-header the day before.

Things looked bleak for Vandoorne when he spun into the barrier trying to avoid a slowing Lucas di Grassi - however, the team managed to repair the car overnight and Vandoorne was able to qualify third on the grid for the second race.

His win on Sunday means Mercedes-EQ now sit second in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship standing, building on De Vries’ win at the season-opening Diriyah E-Prix in Riyadh at the end of February.

“I would like to thank everyone in the team and especially my mechanics, who had their work cut out to get the car fixed after the accident,” Vandoorne said.

A few early battles and a late safety car intervention did not stop the Mercedes-EQ driver from securing his second FIA Formula E victory, placing him firmly in contention for the championship.

Vandoorne also “Fanboost” - the voted-for power surge - to thank as well, as he was able to create distance between himself and Alexander Sims on the final lap restart.

“I wasn't sure what to expect during the safety car period just before the end but still had Fanboost, so I could defend my position,” he said.

“It didn’t feel exactly great after comfortably being in the lead, but I didn’t put a foot wrong over the final lap and managed to secure the win, which is what counts in the end.”

NEOM, Principal Partner of the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, congratulated Vandoorne on his victory in Rome.

“It’s brilliant to see yet another strong performance from the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team,” Jan Paterson, Managing Director of Sport at NEOM said.

“NEOM is striving to become a major participant in the world’s sporting landscape and our partnership with the team is providing us with a unique opportunity to tap into an organization which is relentless in their pursuit of excellence.”

During the pre-season in December, the world witnessed the Belgian driver take to the streets of NEOM in the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02, the first all-electric vehicle driven on the Magna Road.

The partnership between NEOM and Mercedes-EQ - first established in 2020 - will focus on development programs in the region and green mobility efforts to revolutionize electric vehicles, as part of the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan for a sustainable future.


Trio of Saudi clubs prepare to take on continent’s best as AFC Champions League returns

Trio of Saudi clubs prepare to take on continent’s best as AFC Champions League returns
Updated 12 April 2021

Trio of Saudi clubs prepare to take on continent’s best as AFC Champions League returns

Trio of Saudi clubs prepare to take on continent’s best as AFC Champions League returns
  • With all matches taking place in the Kingdom, Al-Hilal look to have an easier task than struggling Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli

LONDON: The time for dreaming is over and the football is about to begin — in West Asia at least — as the 2021 AFC Champions League kicks off on Wednesday. With a few changes to the format.

For the first time, the tournament has been expanded from 32 to 40 teams, not great timing in the middle of a global pandemic, but there are still three from Saudi Arabia in the mix.

And while the group stage welcomes eight more teams, only 16, as before, will make it through to the second round.

This means that only the group winners are certain of progression along with the three best runners-up in the five western zone groups.

As before Asia’s premier club competition remains split into two halves, western and eastern, until the final itself brings the two together.

There are other differences. Travel restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic mean each group is taking place in one city over an intensive period of six games in 16 days.

The teams that handle this schedule the best will prosper and that is good news for Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli who are all playing at home. 

READ MORE

Former Brazil coach Mano Menezes tasked with guiding Al-Nassr to AFC Champions League success Read more here.

Al-Hilal have the best chance of all three in Group A with the downside perhaps being that the 2019 champions are in the middle of a fierce domestic title race.

Their last game before the Champions League was last Frida’s defeat against Al-Ittihad in third and the first game after the group finishes comes against Al-Shabab, who are in second, on May 7.

Losing Salem Al-Dawsari to injury is a blow but there is enough talent available to Brazilian coach Rogerio Micale, who has yet to really win over fans since replacing Razvan Lucescu in February.

The Riyadh giants are in an interesting group which features, for the first time ever, two teams from Central Asia.

Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol have made waves in the AFC Cup, Asia’s second-tier competition, and are now making their debut in the big event.

Al-Hilal’s defence will have to keep an eye on prolific striker Manuchekhr Dzhalilov. 

AGMK of Uzbekistan are also making their Champions League debut and while they are not the strongest team in the country, Saudi Arabia are in the same World Cup qualification group as the Uzbeks, and Hilal players will know not to underestimate the opposition.

The group is completed by Shabab Al-Ahli. The Dubai team, runners-up in 2015, is full of talent, led by former UAE national team boss Mahdi Ali and features former Al-Hilal star Omar Abdulrahman.

All in all however, it would be a surprise if the three-time champions didn’t make it out of the group.

Al-Nassr have a tougher-looking proposition. First and foremost is the presence of Al-Sadd. Coach Xavi Hernandez, nailed-on to be a future Barcelona boss, has just led the 2011 continental champions to the Qatar Stars League title and did so without losing a game.

READ MORE

5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico. Read more here.

 

His sights are well and truly set on Asia and with former Arsenal star Santi Cazorla in stunning form, Al Sadd are one of the favorites.

Foolad of Iran will be no pushovers and Jordan’s Al-Wehdat, making a first appearance in the tournament, will be hard to beat.

The Riyadh giants, who reached the last four in 2020, have had an up and down season and are looking to Asia to bring some joy for their fans.

So much so, that last Friday Alen Horvat was fired as head coach and replaced by Mano Menezes in time for the start of the group matches.

The first priority for the former Brazil boss is to take Al-Nassr to the knockout stages.

His clashes with Xavi at Al-Sadd will not just be fascinating but probably pivotal.

Al-Ahli complete the trio and like Al-Nassr are heading into Asia off the back of a disappointing domestic season and have also just appointed a new coach.

Laurentiu Reghecampf led Al-Hilal to the final of the 2014 edition and that infamous loss to Western Sydney Wanderers.

The Romanian now returns to the country to take over the struggling Jeddah club, which have lost its last six games. 

If that wasn’t worrying enough, though Asia offers a chance of a change and a respite from domestic woes, Al-Ahli’s group is a tough one.

Two-time winners Esteghlal of Iran reached the last 16 before being knocked out by Pakhtakor last year and will be hoping to go further this time around.

A strong Al-Duhail team finished second in Qatar to the all-conquering Al-Sadd and while Al-Shorta of Iraq are the outsiders, football in the country is going through a resurgence right now and they can be counted on to cause an upset or two.

For Al-Ahli, finalists in 2012, getting to the second round would be a fine achievement and a great way for the new boss to start his spell.

At the moment, the odds are against it but the AFC Champions League is nothing if not unpredictable.

Despite that, predicting that Al-Hilal will be the best performing Saudi side still seems like a relatively safe forecast to make.


The social network that wants to unite the football community

The social network that wants to unite the football community
Updated 12 April 2021

The social network that wants to unite the football community

The social network that wants to unite the football community
  • TheFutbolApp allows members to earn cryptocurrency through engagement on its news feeds, games and chatrooms.

DUBAI: What do you get if you let a tech wizard and a football-mad businessman brainstorm together for long enough?

The answer, perhaps not surprisingly in hindsight, is a social media network for football fans.

Specifically, TheFutbolApp, the brainchild of American Steve van Zutphen and British-Cypriot George Kafkarkou.

News feeds, games, prediction leagues, and chatrooms. Uniquely for social networks, it also looks to share its wealth with its members through its own cryptocurrency, TheFutbolCoin (TFC). The more you engage, the more likes you get, the more you make.

Van Zutphen is a veteran of the tech industry and has had several experiences of creating social networks since the early days of the century.

“It’s really hard to create a social network technically,” he said.

“It’s a lot more difficult than people expect, because of the amount of polish they see on Instagram and Facebook. They have tens of thousands of technologists as you can imagine. But if you break into a social network, you have to be better than the existing ones, not be equal or lesser.”

It took a long time to perfect an idea which, according to van Zutphen, initially came about after his friend and champion skier Jan Hudec - nicknamed the Panda - had asked him to devise a mechanism in which money can be poured back into the skiing community.

And so the tech behind TheFutbolApp was born.

“We’re used the advantage of the big technology toolkit we developed over a decade with a really world class team of guys and we felt that the way to get in the market was through sports, as a primary interest base, because we knew that Twitter was riding the coat-tails of football.”

To what extent football fans flock to Twitter came as shock to van Zutphen, as it might for many people.

“I’ve talked to executives at Twitter, and they said straight to me that of 100 million daily active users (two years ago), 70 million are there primarily because of football. So really Twitter is a football app, it’s football’s Instagram. So we thought that we could field something different and better, maybe to combine the features of these popular networks. We could do it, and we chose football.”

“It wasn’t easy, it’s technically very difficult,” he added. “But we did get it off the ground now and it’s running really beautifully.”

TheFutbolApp was launched in 2019 and currently has just over half a million active members. The founders where after creating a community that will benefit all its members equally.

“Steve and I and the whole team have a burning desire to make difference for everybody involved in this community,” Kafkarkou said.

“The biggest community in the world is football. Everybody is equal, everybody shares the passion.”

The established social media networks are not exactly enjoying positive press these days and Kafkarkou is keen to point out how TheFutbolApp will differentiate itself from the pack.

“One of the benefits of the TFC, the token, is that it's a mechanism for us to share the wealth of advertising in football with our users,” he said.

“As opposed to Facebook and Twitter who keep all their revenue, our approach is to share it with the community.”

This holistic mindset can benefit all partners he says, including football clubs, whose finances, shoddy at the best of times, have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The most important stakeholder, however, is always the individual fan.

“We [TheFutbolApp] are closer to the fans of any club than the clubs themselves and that will continue to grow,” he added.

“We’re growing without any promotional activities at eight percent per month in terms of users. And we’ve barely warmed up, there are many more things to come.”

Having held an executive position at a Fortune 500 company in New York, Kafkarkou says it would have been easy for him and his partner to conceive of other money-making ideas.

Their motivation, however, was to create a model where “everybody wins or nobody wins”.

As with other social networks, registering on TheFutbolApp is simple. Name, location, favorite team, or teams.

“If you install the app and activate your wallet, the first thing you get is one free TFC,” Kafkarkou said. “Today that token is listed on one of the most prestigious cryptocurrency exchanges and has value of 42 cents. If you invite a friend and they activate their wallet, you get another TFC. The three most popular areas of the app are the social feed of your club, the games and the chatrooms. People can earn a lot of points which we convert to TFC playing games. In the bitcoin world you mine electronically, in our world, you socially mine. You spend time in the app and you earn it.”

The early signs were that it had universal appeal. Fifty percent of users are women.

In Cyprus, where the founders reside, over 100 businesses accept TFC in part or in whole for goods and services. The co-founders expect similar engagements elsewhere.

“We love data because you have to work with reality, not dreams,” said Kafkarkou.

“We are approaching one million transactions paid for in part or in whole with the TFC here in Cyprus. So when setting up in the UK or US, the adoption will be at least as great as Cyprus.”

The Middle East, like Africa, is proving fertile ground for new members.

“We just recently did the Arabic translations, we started updating all the social feeds for all the teams in the region,” said van Zutphen.

“It’s one of the greatest markets. The top four markets in the world in terms of the degree of intensity for the love of football are Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Egypt. We’re super excited about being able to bring the Middle East to this app.”

Crucially, according to Kafkarkou, Arab football fans, as opposed to, say, a supporter of Premier League club, tend to support several teams in several different countries, or markets.

That will translate to more time on the app.

“We well understand the passion in the Arab states for football,” he said.

“The typical Arab fan follows three or four clubs. They follow their local club, but they also typically follow a team in La Liga, the English Premier League and also in Serie A in Italy. Frankly, they almost love them equally.”

“If you’re following your favorite player or club on Instagram you’re not allowed to post in their feed, but in our system you can, so you’re actually in the party there,” he added.

It is by design a one-stop shop, or network, for football fans. Kafkarkou calls it an “app in an app” and Van Zutphen believes it could well replace different chatrooms, forums, WhatsApp and Facebook groups, which he sees as “scattered to the wind”.

A fan on his way to a football match, can plan to meet up with supporters in a coffee shop near the stadium while checking the team line-up on his club’s feed. And then pay for his latte with TFC.

“And that is, turning [engagement] into knowledge of where you can go and also into money, tokens, that you can use to actually buy things,” he added.


The Saudi Arabian GP is ‘going to beat Monaco’ — Prince Khalid

The Saudi Arabian GP is ‘going to beat Monaco’ — Prince Khalid
Updated 12 April 2021

The Saudi Arabian GP is ‘going to beat Monaco’ — Prince Khalid

The Saudi Arabian GP is ‘going to beat Monaco’ — Prince Khalid
  • Chairman of Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) breaks ground on Jeddah’s new Formula 1 circuit
  • Jeddah circuit will be 6.175 kilometers long, making it the second longest circuit in F1 track in history

JEDDAH: Silverstone, Circuit de Monaco and Spa-Francorchamps; Jeddah’s new Formula 1 race circuit will soon be rivaling some of the world’s greatest tracks when it is completed ahead of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix next December.

On Sunday, Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially signal the start of construction on the track — with completion expected around mid-November this year.

“It means a lot. We know Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsports, it’s the biggest event that Saudi Arabia will host,” the SAMF chairman said. “It’s very important for the Kingdom, for our youth, for the sport, for the economy, and for tourism.”

Despite the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year, the Kingdom actively continued to be home to some of the biggest motorsports events on the local and international tours, and is now set to host the grandest of them all.

When Jeddah holds the Kingdom’s first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix it will cap off a landmark year which has already seen the Dakar Rally, Formula E, and Extreme E championship races.

“We are preparing ourselves to host the most thrilling and exciting race ever,” Prince Khalid said. “The Jeddah circuit will be amazing. It’s the fastest street circuit, and it’s the longest street circuit.”

The ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the new circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The Saudi Arabian GP — one of 23 races — is set to take place on Dec. 5, 2021, and the circuit will be built on a coastal stretch of Jeddah’s Corniche, giving the spectators and drivers an open view of the Red Sea.

“How many Formula 1 race tracks are on the side of the sea?” Martin Whitaker, CEO of the Saudi Arabian GP said. “It’s a fantastic location, the community of Jeddah is going to experience something completely different. This will be a real differentiator for F1 racing as well. It’s a great new home for F1.”

With just over seven months until the race, Whitaker says the biggest challenges are time and the pandemic.

The ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the new circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

“We have two plans,” he said. We’re planning for a race with full spectators, but also, we have a COVID plan as well.”

Prince Khalid believes the design of the circuit will make it one of the most exciting in Formula 1.

“Normally, the street circuits are a bit boring in terms of racing because of the location, there’s not a lot of changes that can be done, but we are very lucky here in this area of the Corniche,” he said. “It’s still not developed, so this gave us the opportunity to do a street circuit that is fast and thrilling and exciting, so it’s going to beat Monaco.”

“With what the Kingdom is doing regarding vaccination, and the progress we are seeing, from here until December I’m sure that a lot of people will be vaccinated,” The SAMF chairman added. “And I pray and I hope that the situation will be much better and we’ll be in a position where we can allow our fans to come and enjoy this lovely race with us.”

The ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the new circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Last year saw Lewis Hamilton win his seventh world championship after the 20th race of the season. Max Verstappen turned up the heat this year with a breathtakingly close second-place podium finish - behind Hamilton - at the season-opening Bahrain GP to confirm himself as the biggest threat to the champion's dream of what would be a record-breaking eighth title in 2021.

“Max Verstappen proved in Bahrain he’s fast. Hopefully, we’ll see other drivers challenge Hamilton and make the championship more difficult to achieve,” Prince Khalid said.

The ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the new circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

A new Formula 1 circuit is also currently under construction in Qiddiya, Riyadh, and is set to host future editions of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix once completed in a few years’ time.

“The initial plan was to host the Formula 1 race in Qiddiya, but the Crown Prince, His Royal Highness, wanted us not to wait,” Prince Khalid said. “I think Qiddiya should be ready by the end of 2023, so we wanted to bring the race sooner than that and we chose a perfect location — Jeddah."


Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket

Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket
Updated 12 April 2021

Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket

Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Hideki Matsuyama delivered golf-mad Japan the grandest and greenest prize of all.
Ten years after Matsuyama made a sterling debut as the best amateur at Augusta National, he claimed the ultimate trophy Sunday with a victory in the Masters to become the first Japanese winner of the green jacket.
Matsuyama closed with a 1-over 73 and a one-shot victory that was only close at the end, and never seriously in doubt after Xander Schauffele’s late charge ended with a triple bogey on the par-3 16th.
Moments before Dustin Johnson helped him into the green jacket, Matsuyama needed no interpreter in Butler Cabin when he said in English, “I’m really happy.”
So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. With a four-shot lead, he went for the green in two on the par-5 15th and it bounded hard off the back slope and into the pond on the 16th hole.
Matsuyama did well to walk away with bogey, and with Schauffele making a fourth straight birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play.
The next swing all but ended it. Schauffele’s tee shot on the par-3 16th bounced off the hill left of the green and dribbled into the pond. His third shot from the drop area went into the gallery. It added to a triple bogey, and his third close call in a major.
Never mind that Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes, the first Masters champion with a final round over par since Trevor Immelman shot 75 in 2008.
All that mattered was that uphill walk to the 18th green, needing only to blast out of the bunker and take two putts for the victory.
And that’s what he did, soaking in the moment with a few thousand spectators on their feat to celebrate a career-changing moment — for the 29-year-old Matsuyama, and he hopes for an entire country.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow,” Matsuyama said.
Will Zalatoris, the 24-year-ld Masters rookie, holed an 18-foot par putt on the last hole for a 70 and was runner-up. It was the best performance by a first-timer to the Masters since another Dallas kid, Jordan Spieth, was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson.
Spieth had a few fleeting thoughts of coming from six shots behind except for too many missed putts early and missed opportunities late. He bogeyed his last hole for a 70 and tied for third with Schauffele, who shot a 72 with a triple bogey and a double bogey on his card.
Matsuyama finished at 10-under 278 for his 15th victory worldwide, and his sixth on the PGA Tour.
He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
Returning to the 18th green for the trophy presentation, he again put on the green jacket and raised both arms in triumph. Augusta National allowed limited spectators, believed to be about 8,000 a day, and most might have remembered him from a decade ago.
He won the Asia-Pacific Amateur to earn an invitation to the Masters, and he was low amateur — tied with defending champion Phil Mickelson that year — to earn a trip into famed Butler Cabin. He won in Japan as an amateur, and four times after he graduated college and turned pro. His first PGA Tour victory was at the Memorial in 2014, prompting tournament host Jack Nicklaus to say, “I think you’ve just seen the start of what’s going to be truly one of your world’s great players over the next 10 to 15 years.”
That moment came Sunday.
Matsuyama is not big on emotion, and he speaks even less even when cornered after every round by the large contingent of Japanese media.
Most of the media was absent this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and Matsuyama had said on the eve of the final round that it has been a lot less stress.
There was plenty on the golf course, right from the start.
Matsuyama sent his opening tee shot into the trees right of the first fairway. He punched it under the trees from the pine straw, hit a soft pitch that rolled down the slope away from the pin and was happy to leave with bogey. Two groups ahead of him, Zalatoris opened with two straight birdies.
Just like that, the lead was down to one.


A brief look at the final round Sunday of the Masters:

  • WINNER: Hideki Matsuyama became the first male golfer from Japan to win a major championship, closing with a 73 for a 10-under 278 total.
  • RUNNER-UP: Masters rookie Will Zalatoris stamped himself as a future star by finishing one stroke behind Matsuyama.
  • ANOTHER CLOSE CALL: Xander Schauffele had another heartbreaking finish in a major championship, his hopes ruined by a triple-bogey at No. 16 after he had made four straight birdies to close within two shots of Matsuyama.
  • TOUGH FINISH: Bryson DeChambeau struggled again at Augusta after coming into the tournament as one of the favorites. He closed with a 75 and finished 15 shots behind the winner.
  • ASIAN CHAMPIONS: Matsuyama became the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
  • SHOT OF THE DAY: Schauffele’s 8-iron off the tee at the par-3 16th came up short, rolling off the bank and into the pond to clear the way for Matsuyama’s victory.
  • ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Zalatoris, who does even have a full PGA Tour card, turned in the best performance by a Masters first-timer since Jordan Spieth was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson.
  • JAPANESE SWEEP: Matsuyama was Japan’s second winner at Augusta National in eight days, following Tsubasa Kajitani’s playoff victory in the Women’s Amateur.
  • KEY STATISTIC: Matsuyama was the first Masters winner to play a final round over par since Trevor Immelman shot 75 in 2008.
  • NOTEWORTHY: The Masters is now the only major that has champions from every continent where golf is played.
  • QUOTEWORTHY: “Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow.” — Matsuyama.

No one got any closer until the final hour. Matsuyama made birdie from the front bunker on the par-5 second hole. He didn’t make another birdie until the par-5 eighth, and it didn’t matter because no one could put any pressure on him.
Zalatoris misjudged the speed on No. 3 and three-putted for bogey from just off the back of the green. Schauffele was within three of the lead going to the third hole, only to go bogey-bogey-double bogey on the toughest three-hole stretch on the course.
Matsuyama delivered what appeared to be a knockout punch with a nifty up-and-down from right of the green on the eighth for a tap-in birdie, and a lob wedge to the dangerous left pin on the ninth that rolled out to 3 feet. That sent him to the back nine with a five-shot lead.
For the longest time, it looked as though Matsuyama couldn’t wait to get to Butler Cabin and see how he looked in green.
Schauffele, however, rammed in a 20-foot birdie putt from behind the 12th green. He two-putted from 10 feet for birdie on No. 13. He nearly holed out from the fairway for a tap-in birdie on the 14th. And with he nearly holed his greenside bunker shot on the par-5 15th for a fourth straight birdie.
And then all that that worked ended when his ball disappeared below the surface of the pond.
Matsuyama could afford a few bogeys, and all that affected was the final margin. He is the Masters champion, a major that defines his elite status in the game and gives Japan the biggest week it has ever had in April. The week started a week ago Saturday when Tsubasa Kajitani won the second Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Matsuyama wasn’t around to see it, but he was well aware of it. All he wanted was to follow her path and made Japan proud. His play spoke volumes.