Japanese amateur Hideki Matsuyama loves playing the Masters.
Last year, the college student won the Silver Cup, given to the lowest-scoring amateur at Augusta.
This year, Matsuyama shot an even par 72 on Saturday, leaving him at one over par for 54 holes and giving him a six-stroke lead over his nearest competitor among the three amateurs who made the 36-hole cut.
He’s also the only Japanese player left at Augusta.
Ryo Ishikawa, the biggest name in Japanese golf, missed the cut.
Asked after his round Saturday if he’s starting to become as well-known in his home country as Ishikawa, the 20-year-old deferred.
“There nothing I can say about that,” he said. “The people who can just decide such things are in the galleries.”
Those people decided with their feet Saturday as dozens of Japanese patrons and a large media contingent followed Matsuyama for 18 holes.
Kazuki Suzuki, of Yokohama, Japan, said he flew to Augusta just to watch Matsuyama.
Nobuko Tabata, a Japanese student living in Chicago, came to the Masters with her sisters and parents, who also flew in from Japan, to see Matsuyama.
“I hope he’s going to take best amateur two years in a row,” she said. “I’ll be back following him tomorrow.”
Akinori Yokosawa, a Japanese native now living in Atlanta, said Matsuyama deserves the following, though as yet he doesn’t match Ishikawa’s star power back home.
“Ryo is cute, but as a golfer I think (Matsuyama) is better,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Matsuyama said he hoped success at Augusta this year would mean something back home, too.
He attends school in the Sendai area of Japan, which was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami more than a year ago.
“What I would like to do is do my best and play well so that I can encourage them through my play,” he said.
Saturday afternoon, he seemed well on his way to both goals: a second Silver Cup and something for his fans back home to cheer about.