Katayama wins over fans at Augusta

Shingo Katayama of Japan walks off the 18th green after a four-under par 68 during the final round of the 2009 Masters.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Shingo Katayama is still quite the showman.

It’s just been eight years between performances.

Katayama reprised the carefree style and nifty shot-making — and don’t forget the hat — that first got him noticed outside of Japan. He closed an impressive week at the Masters with a 4-under 68 Sunday, the best score among those not making the three-man playoff.

“I played better than what I expected,” Katayama said through an interpreter, relishing a fourth-place finish that matched his best showing ever in a major championship. “I was able to enjoy playing.”

Even though he hasn’t done much on this side of the Pacific since his breakout at the 2001 PGA Championship, Katayama showed he hasn’t lost any of his flair.

He applauded the cheering patrons at No. 2 when they saluted him after a birdie. He doffed his trademark cowboy-style hat and gave a big, swooping bow as he walked up to the 18th green. And when the final putt dropped in, a lengthy birdie that equaled the highest finish ever for a Japanese golfer at Augusta National, he thrust his putter skyward and left with a big smile.

Katayama finished at 10-under 278, two strokes behind Angel Cabrera, Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell.

“I know that I have a lot of bitter experiences to this point,” he said. “I think my practice really paid off today.”

Katayama got things rolling at the second hole, a 575-yard par-5 that bends down a hill to the green. Getting there in two but leaving himself a tricky putt from 60 feet, he actually skipped the ball along the fringe, then watched it curl back up near the cup for an easy birdie.

There was one little slip — a bogey at No. 5 — but Katayama finished strong with birdies on three of the last six holes. He reached the green in two on the par-5 13th with a 4-iron. He knocked a 7-iron to 12 feet at the tricky 16th hole and made the putt. Finally, after saluting the patrons at 18 with his bow, he rolled in a 20-foot birdie.

“It was a great putting line,” Katayama said. “As long as I could putt it with confidence, I knew I could sink it.”

Eight years ago, Katayama had his coming out at the PGA Championship, strolling around sweltering Atlanta Athletic Club as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He won over the fans — most of whom had never heard of him — by grabbing a share of the lead heading to the weekend. Even though he couldn’t hold on, he managed to finish in a tie for fourth, four strokes behind winner David Toms.

Since then, Katayama hasn’t done much outside his homeland, where he’s led the money list five times and won 26 events. He qualified for the Masters seven times before this year, but had never shot a score below 70 or finished higher than a tie for 27th.

His eighth trip to Augusta was different. Katayama took advantage of pristine conditions to shoot a 67 the first day. He slumped to a 73 on Friday, but rebounded on the weekend with a 70-68 finish.

Katayama wasn’t very long off the tee, but he kept the ball in the fairway and displayed a deft touch with his irons, hitting more greens in regulation than all but four other players. If he had been a little more accurate with the putter, he might had snuck into the playoff.

Cabrera won the green jacket, beating Perry on the second extra hole after Campbell went out with a bogey on the first.

Katayama did some scoreboard watching on Sunday, but he never quite closed the gap on those up ahead of him. Still, he equaled Toshi Izawa’s fourth-place finish at the 2001 Masters. No Japanese golfer has ever finished higher than Isao Aoki, runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at the U.S. Open in 1980.

With Katayama and 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, who failed to make the cut in his first Masters but gained valuable experience, the future certainly looks bright.

“I’m hoping that Japanese golf,” Katayama said, “will be coming forward in the world.”

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