AUGUSTA, GA. – Hideki Matsuyama is all of us. He hit a lousy shot, trudged off the golf course during a rain delay and sat in his car playing games on his cellphone, hoping the rain would rinse away the bad taste left by his last swing.
Hideki Matsuyama is like none of us. On Saturday, he shot a third-round 65 to take a four-shot lead at the Masters while trying to become the first Japanese man to win a golf major.
Swing coach? Sports psychologist? Masseuse? Chiropractor? Life coach?
In his attempt to break a four-year winless streak on the PGA Tour and become an immortal in his golf-loving country, Matsuyama stared vacantly at his hand-held idiot box, then, head cleared of swing and other thoughts, he hit a shot that launched him into the lead and perhaps into history.
"Played a lot of games on the cellphone,'' he said through an interpreter. "My game plan was carried out and hopefully tomorrow I can continue in good form.''
Good is an understatement. On a day that started out dry and fast and turned, during a midafternoon shower, slow and sticky, Matsuyama was the only player on the leaderboard to shoot better than 68.
"I'm not sure why I play well here,'' he said. "I just love playing here.''
It can be tough love. The par-5 15th hole at Augusta National Golf Club is enticing and teasing, inviting and dangerous. Golfers feel like they should make eagle while knowing that trying to make eagle brings trouble into play.
Trees guard the left side of the fairway. Water guards the front of the green, and a shot that goes over the green forces a delicate pitch that easily could wind up wet. On Saturday, the pin was tucked toward the left side and skinniest portion of the green.
Matsuyama smashed a low, running fade that scooted toward the center of the fairway. He had about 210 yards to the hole. He pulled a 5-iron and launched a shot so high it landed as if attached to a parachute.
Moments after playing partner Xander Schauffele made a long eagle putt, Matsuyama made his short eagle putt to vault into the lead ahead of Justin Rose, who had led the first two rounds.
Matsuyama would follow with a birdie on the 16th, after attacking another tucked pin, then birdie the 17th and end the day with a four-shot lead over Schauffele, Rose, Marc Leishman and Will Zalatoris.
Matsuyama, 29, said he was inspired by Tsubasa Kajitani. The 17-year old from Japan won the second Augusta National Women's Amateur contested last week.
"It was unfortunate I wasn't able to watch it, I was playing last week in Texas, so I didn't get to see her,'' he said. "But it was fantastic and I hope I can follow in her shoes and make Japan proud.''
Exactly 10 years earlier, he shot a 68 in his first appearance at the Masters on his way to becoming low amateur.
"That is a round I will never forget,'' he said. "I remember walking off the 18th green and Steve Stricker was walking off the ninth hole and said, 'Nice playing, Hideki.' That's a memory I'll cherish. And then because of that round, it gave me the confidence that I could play here.''
Chasing him is an odd assortment of players. Only two of the top 12 players have won a major — Rose and Jordan Spieth.
Matsuyama has produced an eagle in all three rounds. According to ESPN, the only other golfer to have at least one eagle in each of his first three rounds of a major was Ernie Els at the 2013 Masters.
"Right before the rain delay I probably hit the worst shot I've hit this week,'' Matsuyama said. "During the delay I just figured, I can't hit anything worse than that. Maybe it relieved some pressure.''
He'll face a different kind of pressure on Sunday, and may not be able to take a break to play Candy Crush.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org