2007: Zach Johnson brings Masters win to Iowa
In a final round in which traditions were blown away like the wind that confounded the field during the week, Zach Johnson remained calm and won the highest-scoring Masters Tournament in 51 years Sunday.
Johnson became the first winner in 17 years not to come out of the final pairing, and the first champion since Mark O'Meara in 1998 to come from behind to win after 54 holes.
Johnson, who entered the week as a one-time winner on the PGA Tour and the 56th-ranked player in the world, stared down world No. 1 Tiger Woods and the rest of the best to win at Augusta National Golf Club.
Johnson, the first Masters winner other than Woods or Phil Mickelson since 2003, closed with 3-under-par 69 - one of just eight rounds in the 60s during the tournament, to win by two shots over a trio of players.
He entered the final round two shots off Stuart Appleby's lead after rounds of 71-73-76 and finished as one of just five players in the field to have at least two under-par rounds during the week.
One of the runners-up was Woods, who led the tournament after five holes Sunday and ended up shooting 72.
It was the first runner-up finish in the Masters for Woods, a four-time champion who was seeking his third consecutive major championship.
"As they say, a giant's got to fall at some point, and maybe that's the case," said Johnson, 31. "The guy's a phenom. The next person to come along like him, who knows how long it's going to be? It makes it that much more gratifying knowing that I beat Tiger Woods; there's no question about that."
Woods, who shot 73-74-72-72, said he lost the tournament in the first and third rounds, with bogeys on the final two holes each day.
"That basically cost me the tournament," said Woods, who failed to break par in a tournament round of the Masters for the first time since 1996, when he was an amateur.
Somehow, Johnson never looked at the giant leaderboards that dot the course. It wasn't until after the 15th hole that his caddie, Damon Green, told Johnson he had a two-shot lead.
"I really didn't know what was going on, which was a good thing," Johnson said. "I was able to maintain my focus and maintain an even keel. I stuck to my guns. I played my own game."
Joining Woods in the runner-up spot were a pair of South Africans who shot 69s, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini.
During a week when birdies were a rare occasion, Johnson had six of them Sunday, including three in his final five holes.
The Iowa native tied the tournament record for high winning score at 1-over 289, the first time it has been matched since 1956 (it was set in 1954).
He also set a record for a Masters champion with 16 bogeys. The high winning score was understandable; this was the fifth toughest Masters on record, with a cumulative scoring average of 75.881.
None of that mattered to Johnson, a former mini-tour player who said he didn't know what he shot in the final round. He also called the experience surreal, which might explain why he called Augusta National and Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne "commissioner Payne" in the outdoor green jacket ceremony.
For the final round, Johnson hit 10 fairways, 12 greens and needed only 27 putts. For the week, he tied for second place in driving accuracy (45 of 56 fairways hit), tied for fourth in greens in regulation (44 of 72) and tied for 10th fewest putts (112).
"I think Zach was emotionally a lot sharper than everyone else," said Appleby, who shot a final-round 75 to tie for seventh place, four shots behind Johnson. "Zach knuckled down and got it done."
The victory came in Johnson's third start in the Masters and his 12th in a major championship. His previous best finish at Augusta National was a tie for 32nd place in 2006; his best finish in a major was a tie for 17th in the 2005 PGA Championship.
Johnson's other PGA Tour victory also came in Georgia. In 2004, he won the BellSouth Classic in Duluth.
"I felt like I've been blessed and I'm good enough to take home a green jacket," Johnson said. "That's what I was trying to tell myself the entire time."
Johnson basked in the glow of winning on Easter Sunday, thanking Jesus in the outdoor green jacket ceremony.
"I certainly felt another power that was walking with me and guiding me," Johnson said.
Vaughn Taylor, who was trying to duplicate fellow Augustan Larry Mize's victory of 20 years ago, didn't get it done this time (75 to tie for 10th place), but he was the perfect playing partner for Johnson on Sunday. The two met in 2000 on the Nationwide Tour and have remained friends. They were Ryder Cup teammates last year.
"He's a very mellow guy, and I feel like I'm mellow as well, and that's probably how we click," Johnson said. "We're the same age and have some of the same interests. He's a great guy, and I think that at some point he'll be in this position, and you're not going to forget Vaughn Taylor for sure."
"He played really solid," Taylor said of Johnson. "He hit the ball well. He made key putts; big-time putts. That's Zach. He showed it on the Ryder Cup. He's one of the toughest guys I know. He's short in stature. He's not a long hitter. He's just downright tough."
Johnson took the lead for good with a birdie on the par-5 13th hole, making a 10-foot putt. The lead grew to two shots with a 7-foot birdie on No. 14.
Johnson went up by three shots with an eight-foot birdie on the par-3 16th, a hole he had three-putted for bogey in each of the previous three rounds.
"Well, I guess I got my redemption," Johnson said. "I thought, 'If I make this putt, I'm going to be tough to beat.'"
He followed that with a bogey on No. 17 and a scrambling par on No. 18 to shoot 2-under 34 on the inward nine.
"It seems to me that this tournament throughout the years, it's very apparent that it is won the back nine on Sunday," Johnson said.