Yesterday saw the most improbable Masters champ in twenty years.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Unheralded Zach Johnson won the Masters’ green jacket and had to beat Tiger Woods to get it. Johnson pulled away from Woods and the rest of the pack with three birdies in a crucial four-hole stretch along the back nine of Augusta National, closing with a 69 for a two-shot victory and only the second of his career.
The 31-year-old self-described “normal guy” from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the least accomplished Masters champion since Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman in a playoff 20 years ago, but this was no fluke. Even as some of the thrills returned in the final round, Johnson kept his calm.
“This is very surreal â€” very, very surreal,” said Johnson, who was on the Nationwide Tour four years ago and has not won in the big leagues since 2004 at the BellSouth Classic. “I didn’t think it would be this year, but I had no idea.”
It was the third time Woods lost a lead during the final round of a major, and the first time he ever failed to get it back.
Johnson finished at 1-over 289, matching a Masters record last set in 1956 for highest winning score. And it ended a streak of the winner coming out of the final group at Augusta National ever year since 1991.
Johnson did it the old-fashioned way.
So much for that theory that the Masters is only for the big boys. Johnson didn’t try to reach any of the par 5s in two all week, yet he played them better than anyone with 11 birdies and no bogeys.
Now, Johnson can come back to play in the Masters as long as he wants as one of the most unlikely champions.
Woods walked away bitter again, not so much at his play on Sunday but for the way he finished in previous rounds. A bogey-bogey finish on Saturday that ultimately cost him the lead, and a bogey-bogey finish on Thursday that set the tone for his week.
“I had a chance,” Woods said. “But looking back over the week, I basically blew this tournament on two rounds where I had bogey-bogey finishes. That’s 4 over on two holes. You can’t afford to do that and win major championships.”
Even so, he didn’t help himself in the final round.
Two shots behind making the turn, Woods found a bunker on the 10th and failed to save par. His tee shot stopped next to a Georgia pine on the next hole, and Woods’ 4-iron collided with the tree immediately after he hit the ball, bending the shaft almost in half. He did well to save par there, and seemed to hit another gear on the 13th.
With his 4-iron in two pieces, he hammered a 5-iron over the creek at the 13th and watched it trickle down the top shelf until it stopped 3 feet away for his only eagle of the week.
Johnson, who laid up short of the 15th green, was walking to his third shot when he heard the roar and “I assumed Tiger made eagle” to pull within two shots.
Johnson made par from just off the green, then holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th to cap his run and put Woods in position of needing a charge of his own. Woods simply didn’t have it.
His 15-foot birdie attempt on the 14th broke across the front of the cup. And from the right rough on the 15th, needing to bend the ball around the pines, his 3-iron came up just short and into the water. He pitched to 7 feet to save par and stay in the game.
Johnson three-putted from about 35 feet on the 17th for bogey, again leaving Woods hope. But he missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th, and his approach to the 17th came up short in a bunker.
In spite of all the talk about Tiger, Johnson played the best golf yesterday and deserved to win. Zach isn’t one of the top 20 players in the world, but did beat some of the best players in the world yesterday. Chalk up up for one of the little guys.
The Masters has had some surprising champs but not many. Larry Mize, Charles Coody and Tommy Aaron all had less than five lifetime PGA Tour wins in their careers.
Tiger’s play never made him look like a champ yesterday. He was very lucky to finish second.
Zach Johnson won tournaments on both the Hooters and Grand Prarie mini-tours before joining the PGA Tour in 2004. Quite a journey to being a major champion don’t you think?
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