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Japanese player Katayama earns return visit

Shingo Katayama of Japan bows to the gallery as he walks up the 18th fairway during the final round of the Masters on Sunday.

Shingo Katayama of Japan bows to the gallery as he walks up the 18th fairway during the final round of the Masters on Sunday.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Shingo Katayama made sure he will be back next year after earning a fourth-place finish Sunday, equaling the best showing ever by a Japanese player in the Masters.

Toshi Izawa tied for fourth in 2001.

“I’ve never had this experience of the decision being made at this early time,” said Katayama, 36. “Usually, it comes in December.”

Katayama, ranked No. 39, qualified by ending 2008 among the top 50 in the world rankings.

Katayama shot 68 to finish 10 under par, two strokes out of a playoff that saw Angel Cabrera beat Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell in two extra holes.

Katayama has played in The Masters eight times, but he had never had a top-10 finish before this year. His previous best finish in a major was a tie for fourth in the 2001 PGA Championship.

He said he feels about the same in competition, whether playing on the PGA Tour or in Japan, where he has 26 career wins.

“I’m playing the same way,” he said, “just chasing the leaders.”

Ready to return

John Merrick said playing in his first Masters was a thrill, but next year might be better.

He shot 66 Sunday to share sixth place at 8 under, guaranteeing a return trip to Augusta National in 2010.

“I can’t wait to tee it up again,” he said.

Merrick, 27, who also tied for sixth at the 2008 U.S. Open, said experience might be overplayed at Augusta National.

“You pretty much know what you have to do,” he said. “You have to execute good shots. I did that this week.”

So long, Big Three

When the 2010 Masters is staged next April, one of the select group of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus will not be in the field for the first time since 1954.

Player ended the era of what became known as The Big Three on Friday when he missed the cut after a record 52 years in the tournament.

His retirement from competition at Augusta National followed Palmer’s in 2004, after playing 50 consecutive years, and Nickalus’ in ’05 after 45 years.

“I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” Player said Friday after receiving a loud ovation as he played his last round.

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