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Hideki Matsuyama takes four-shot lead into final round of Masters

Japan has been sending golfers to the Masters since 1936, with about three dozen players combining for well over 100 appearances at Augusta National.

Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, walks the the 17th green during the third round of the Masters. Source: Associated Press

And none had ever finished a round atop the leaderboard.

Until today.

Hideki Matsuyama’s four-shot lead going into tomorrow's final round of the Masters is a breakthrough moment for Japan, which became the 17th nation to see one of its players hold a lead after any round at Augusta National.

The others, per the Masters: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, Fiji, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United States, Wales and Zimbabwe.

It was 10 years ago when Matsuyama became the first Asia-Pacific Amateur champion to make the cut and be the low amateur at the Masters.

He was the second-lowest amateur finisher to Patrick Cantlay in the Masters field the following year.

Here’s something else to note going into the final round: on two previous occasions, Matsuyama has posted the low fourth-round score at the Masters.

“This is a new experience for me being a leader going into the final round in a major,” Matsuyama said.

“I guess all I can do is relax and prepare well and do my best.”

Matsuyama was at 11-under 205, and no one could stay with him after the delay.

It lasted 1 hour, 18 minutes because of dangerous weather and just enough rain fell that crusty Augusta National was a little more forgiving.

He hit what he said was his worst shot of the day right before the delay, a tee shot into the trees on the right. He punched a 7-iron out to 20 feet for birdie and was on his way.

The break brought the Masters to life, and at times it was hard to keep up.

Xander Schauffele ran in a 60-foot eagle putt across the 15th green to momentary join a four-way tie for the lead.

Seconds later, Justin Rose holed a 25-foot birdie putt back on the par-3 12th to regain the lead.

That lasted as long as it took Matsuyama to rap in his 5-foot eagle putt on the 15th to take the lead for good.

The entire sequence took no more than two minutes.

But after that, no one could catch Matsuyama.

When the round ended, Schauffele (68), Rose (72), Marc Leishman (70) and Masters rookie Will Zalatoris (71) were all at 7-under 209.

Jordan Spieth was within two shots of the lead despite a double bogey on the seventh hole, but he couldn't keep pace and shot 72 to fall six shots behind.