AUGUSTA • For all his achievements, Japan's world No. 14 Hideki Matsuyama does not have quite the rock-star status at home of fellow pro Ryo Ishikawa, or even some of his nation's top women golfers.
That could all change this morning (Singapore time) if Matsuyama becomes the first Japanese man to win a Major golf title.
Lacking in charisma, he prefers to let his clubs do the talking, and the 24-year-old has made quite a racket at the Masters, firing an even-par 72 on Saturday to grab a share of third alongside Bernhard Langer.
The duo will go into the final round just two strokes behind leader Jordan Spieth. If Matsuyama prevails, he will be the second Asian man to win a Major, after Y.E. Yang's victory in the 2009 PGA Championship.
The previous best finish at the Masters for a Japanese player was fourth, by Toshi Izawa in 2001 and Shingo Katayama in 2009.
Matsuyama had pulled within one of Spieth on Saturday, when he sank a 27-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole to reach three under. But bogeys at the par-three 16th and par-four 17th dropped him back.
The Japanese, however, shot a final-round 66 last year. And he believes he has improved since.
"I learnt last year I just have to get better all around, especially my putting," said the winner of two PGA Tour events and six on the Japan Tour, who is now based in Orlando, Florida.
"And I worked hard on putting, and this year I've had success and putted better than I had last year. I did prepare hard and well for this week and it has paid off so far."
It helps that he has few interests outside golf.
"I like golf," he said, when asked about his hobbies.
"Right now the women's Tour in Japan is very, very popular. Hopefully a Major win would give more popularity to the men's Tour, and hopefully someday we can do that."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS