Hideki Matsuyama held off the field to win the Masters by one stroke at Augusta National and become the first Japanese man to claim a major title.
Matsuyama had a four-shot lead heading into the final day and, despite some nervy moments on Sunday, shot a one-over 73 to win on 10 under par.
American debutant Will Zalatoris was his closest challenger at nine under.
England’s Justin Rose, who led for two rounds, faded in the final round with a a two-over 74 to finish five under.
Xander Schauffele, playing with Matsuyama, birdied the 15th to close within two shots, but hit his tee shot in the water on the 16th as his challenge ended with with a triple-bogey six.
He ended at seven under par in a share of third with fellow American and 2015 champion Jordan Spieth.
Spanish world number three Jon Rahm posted a final-day 66 to come in a further stroke back, alongside Australia’s Marc Leishman.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre impressed on his debut and finished joint 12th at two under par to also secure his place at next year’s Masters.
A decade since Matsuyama was awarded the Silver Cup as the leading amateur at the 2011 Masters, the 29-year-old returned to record a victory that will resonate hugely in his home nation.
Japan has boasted major champions in 1977 LGPA Championship winner Hisako Higuchi and Hinako Shibuno, who won the Women’s Open two years ago, but the closest a male player had previously come to golf’s most sought-after prizes was Isao Aoki with a runner-up finish at the 1980 US Open.
“I am really happy. My nerves really didn’t start on the back nine, it was right from the start and right until the very last putt,” said Matsuyama.
“I was thinking about them [friends and family] all the way around. I am really happy I played well for them. Hopefully I will be a pioneer and many other Japanese players will follow and I am glad to open the floodgates.”
The foundations for Matsuyama’s success were laid on Saturday, returning from an hour-long delay for storms to shoot six under par through his final eight holes.
It meant the world number 25, who passed the time by sitting in his car playing games on his cell phone, signed for a stunning 65 that put him four strokes clear of the field.
There were some early nerves on Sunday as Matsuyama sent his opening drive into the trees and watched his lead cut to one after Zalatoris made a birdie-birdie start.
The 24-year-old American, who was aiming to become the first debutant to win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, emerged as a surprise challenger but Matsuyama birdied the second, made smart par-saves at three and five and then completed the front nine with successive birdies.
After Zalatoris dropped shots at 10 and the Golden Bell 12th, the Japanese player’s advantage was stretched to six strokes.
Matsuyama, who had not won on the PGA Tour since 2017, could afford to cautiously bogey the par-three 12th but was fortunate to avoid sending his approach to the 13th green into the azaleas and he went on to birdie the hole.
Playing partner Schauffele looked to have blown his challenge with four dropped shots in three holes through three, four and five.
But a run of four birdies that started on the 12th suddenly put the pressure on Matsuyama, especially when the leader hit his second shot on the par-five 15th over the green and into the water on the 16th hole. That resulted in a dropped shot and his advantage was down to two.
Schauffele’s grandparents live in Japan and he says he knows enough of the language to share a joke with Matsuyama, but the American was is no mood for that when his tee shot on the par-three 16th dropped into the water as he recorded a triple-bogey six.
That handed Matsuyama the initiative once more, despite carding a bogey himself, and he held a two-shot lead heading down the 18th, where he converted a bogey putt to clinch the Green Jacket in front of the patrons gathered around the green.
The former world number two becomes the second Japanese player to enjoy a victory at the iconic Georgia venue in eight days, after Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last week. (Courtesy BBC)