Hideki Matsuyama took a big step towards becoming the first Asian winner of The Masters after opening up a four-stroke lead during a weather-affected third round at Augusta National.
Matsuyama produced a blistering run of scoring on the back nine to post a seven-under 65, finding an eagle and four birdies in an eight-hole stretch to card the first bogey-free round of the week.
The 29-year-old, without a worldwide victory since 2017, heads into the final day on 11 under and with a commanding advantage over the chasing pack, with Justin Rose, Marc Leishman, Xander Schauffele and Augusta debutant Will Zalatoris all four behind in tied-second.
Rose – starting the day one ahead – briefly increased his lead to three after holing a 12-foot birdie at the first and picking up a shot at the par-five next, only to post back-to-back bogeys from the fourth after failing to get up and down from greenside bunkers on both holes.
The former world No 1 remained one ahead and was one the seventh green when play was suspended just before 4pm local time due to the threat of lightning, with Rose returning to make his par after an 80-minute delay before three-putting the par-five next.
Matsuyama had gone into the weekend three strokes off the lead and opened with six straight pars, only to birdie the seventh and then make back-to-back gains from the 11th after the restart to join Rose on seven under.
Zalatoris picked up a shot at the par-five eighth and drained a 25-footer at the 10th to briefly make it a three-way tie at the top, but Matsuyama responded to a three-putt par at the par-five 13th by firing a stunning approach at the par-five 15th to five feet and rolling in the eagle for the solo lead.
Rose rolled in a 25-foot birdie at the 12th but was unable to make further progress on either par-five on the back nine, as Matsuyama struck his tee shot to four feet at the 16th and converted from 10 feet at the par-four next to jump into a three-stroke advantage.
Matsuyama then produced a superb up and down from the back of the 18th green to close out a back-nine 30 and equal the lowest round of the tournament so far, with the world No 25 now perfectly placed to become Japan’s first male major champion on Sunday.
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“I did play well today,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “My game plan was carried out, and hopefully tomorrow I can continue good form. All I can do is prepare well, try my best and do the best that I can tomorrow.”
Playing partner Schauffele birdied the 13th and converted a 60-foot eagle at the 15th on his way to a four-under 67, lifting him to seven under, with Leishman also four off the pace after mixing four birdies with two bogeys in a third-round 70.
Rose scrambled pars at the 16th and 17th before draining a 15-foot to save par at the last and stay on seven under, with Corey Conners a further stroke back in sixth after firing a hole-in-one at the par-three sixth on his way to a four-under 68.
Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth remains on five under and Scotland’s Bob MacIntyre jumped inside the top-10 thanks to a two-under 70, while Justin Thomas slipped out of contention and 10 behind after triple-bogeying the par-five 13th on his way to a third-round 75.
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