No player from Asia has won the Masters – that is one of the big holes in the championship fabric of a tournament and a club that seeks to grow golf worldwide.

It was left to a young woman to bring an entire, rather large continent along with her to experience victory at Augusta National. In an event reborn after a pandemic year off, Japan’s Tsubasa Kajitani on Saturday claimed the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in a one-hole sudden-death playoff over Wake Forest senior Emilia Migliaccio.

“I’m really proud to be the first ever Japanese (player) to win here,” Kajitani said through an interpreter.

“I can’t really imagine (the reaction) when I’m back to Japan, but hopefully everybody is happy and will enjoy. I’m looking forward to going back to Japan.”

As it was in the beginning, the second-ever edition of this precursor to the Masters was brimming in excitement for bringing the women’s game to America’s most famous course. Even an hour frost delay couldn’t chill the thrill.

Erica Shepard, a Duke sophomore who finished T-16 among the 30 finalists who finished at Augusta National after two rounds off-site, put it best: “It is absolutely heaven on earth. The first three greens I was actually having to snap myself out of thinking this is a dream.

“The weather was a little cold this morning, and somehow when we tee off, it’s just perfect, like not even cold. Sun is out. Beautiful day. So when you’re out here, it’s just hard to think that it’s real. And the fact that it is, and I am getting to compete at Augusta, it’s really special.”

Rose Zhang, the California high school senior and Stanford commit who is the defending Women’s U.S. Amateur champion and world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, touted the impact the event can have on raising the profile of women’s golf.

“I just want everyone to know that every single one of these playing competitors, they are super competitive, just as competitive as men and we are able to play golf at the greatest stage,” she said Friday. “I just want them to know that we are capable and we can still be at the best along with men.”

But paradise also comes with a flip side. Augusta National showed its hard, uncompromising side Saturday.

Case in point was Zhang, the leader going into Saturday’s final round and presumptive favorite. Her quest ended on the par-5 13th, with a lost tee shot left and an approach to the green that found the Rae’s Creek tributary guarding the front. The triple-bogey eight was insurmountable. She shot a 3-over 75 and finished in a tie for third.

Saturday concluded what was just an altogether more difficult experience than was the 2019 inaugural women’s am. The three-round, 1-over total of 217 that placed Kajitani and Migliaccio in the playoff was 11 shots higher than the winning score posted by Jennifer Kupcho in ’19.

Kupcho, who turned pro soon after her victory here and has three runner-up finishes on the LPGA Tour, shot 67 on the final round at Augusta National. For Kajitani, who shot a final-round 72, the day was far more a struggle than that.

With the lead going to the straightforward par-4 17th, Kajitani wasted a perfect fairway drive by chunking a chip short of the green. Her next shot flew over the pin leaving a long, difficult downhill putt. Three putts later, a double bogey left her in a tie for the lead.

“But my caddie said just looking forward to 18. So, I changed my mind. I just switched off and switched on to the 18th,” Katijani said. Her par there forced the sudden death playoff with Migliaccio.

Another par on No. 18, the first playoff hole, was plenty good for Katijani, after Migliaccio pushed her approach right of the greenside bunker there. She was not magician enough to get up and down from there.

It was hard, however, to say there was loser in the playoff. Not to listen afterward to Migliaccio, who has no designs on a pro golf career from here.

“I feel for everyone who didn’t make the cut because it is every girl’s dream who is a golfer to play a competitive round here,” said Migliaccio, who was one of those who missed the cut for the round at Augusta National in 2019.

“Even when watching the Masters, it’s just going to be so special knowing I played a competitive round. It’s just such a dream for all of us to be out here.”

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