- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - In Japan, women’s golf is more popular than the men’s game.

Hideki Matsuyama wants to change that.

The 24-year-old will go to the final round of the Masters just two shots off the lead after shooting an even-par 72 on Saturday, giving him a shot at becoming the first male Japanese player to win one of golf’s biggest championships.

Matsuyama was on his way to the best round of the day until a shaky putter cost him two bogeys in the final three holes.

Still, given the challenging conditions at Augusta National, he’s wasn’t complaining. He’ll be in the next-to-last group Sunday, paired with 58-year-old Bernhard Langer.

“There were very few scores under par,” Matsuyama said through a translator. “It was very difficult. To keep my score even par, I’m satisfied.”

He understands that a Masters victory would be more than just a personal achievement.

“We have a women’s tour in Japan that is very, very popular,” Matsuyama said. “Hopefully a major win would give more popularity to the men’s tour.”

A handful of Japanese golfers have challenged at the Masters.

Shingo Katayama, known for wearing a cowboy-style hat, finished fourth at Augusta in 2009. Toshi Izawa tied for fourth in 2001, a performance that Matsuyama remembers watching on television as a 9-year-old.

“It was an inspiration for me,” he said.

Matsuyama is a rising star on the PGA Tour, having already won a couple of times since earning his card in 2014, most recently beating Rickie Fowler in a four-hole playoff at Phoenix.

Matsuyama finished fifth at the Masters a year ago and moved to Florida to pursue his professional goals. He said it’s been a comfortable transition, though the language barrier is a bit of an issue.

“I do need to learn English,” Matsuyama said. “I am working very hard, but for some reason it is not sticking in my brain right now. … Hopefully the more English I learn, the most popular I can become.”

He’s letting his game do the talking at Augusta National.

That’s a language all the patrons can understand.

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