Soft-Spoken Iowan Makes Masters History With Win Over Tiger Woods
AUGUSTA, Ga. - Zach Johnson made his own history Sunday and put Tiger Woods history on hold.
Johnson compared it, biblically, to David's famous bump and run.
"As they say, the giant's got to fall at some point," he said.
Johnson held off a back-nine charge by Tiger Woods, golf's jolly green jacket giant, to win the 71st Masters at Augusta National. Johnson finished at 1-over-par 289, matching the highest score to win the event.
It mattered little to a soft-spoken man from Iowa who was a lot steadier on the course than he was in his acceptance speech before golf lords.
In the fog of victory, Johnson would mistakenly call Augusta National chairman Billy Payne "commissioner" and do a lot of things a self-confessed "emotional wreck" would do in this position.
Johnson won by shooting 3-under 69 on Sunday, with the roar of Tiger Woods' gallery trailing two groups behind. Johnson prevailed by two shots over Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini - all who finished 3-over.
Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose ended up 4-over 292. Rose, playing a hole behind Johnson, had the chance to track the leader down before he made double bogey at No. 17.
Rose got off to a bad start on 17th when his tee shot hit a tree and caromed into the 15th fairway. He also bogeyed the hole Saturday.
"I just believed all day that I was going to do something special, and I fancied myself coming down the stretch," the Englishman said. "But the 17th cost me this week."
Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, shot 5-over 77 and finished tied for 24th at 11-over 299.
Johnson joined a long list of unexpected Masters winners that include Larry Mize, Charles Coody, Doug Ford, and Gay Brewer.
Johnson uprooted the historical trends. For the first time since Nick Faldo in 1990, the Masters' winner did not come from the final pairing.
For the first time in his career, Tiger Woods held a lead on Sunday in a major and lost it. In fact, most assumed it was game-over when Tiger Woods took the outright lead at 3-over on the front nine.
Scoring conditions improved Sunday. The cold winds that plagued early round play largely subsided, but the 75.8 scoring average was the fourth most difficult in Masters history.
Johnson won with his wife, Kim, coaxing him down the back nine.
"I'm not so sure I believed in this, but she did," Johnson said.
He even thanked his 14-week old son, Will, who had no clue what daddy had just done.
Johnson is from Iowa, and this quickly became an "ah-shucks" story. He introduced himself to a larger world as though he was a plastics salesman.
"I'm Zach Johnson from Cedar Rapids," he said. "That's about it. I'm a normal guy."
Sunday, he wasn't.
Picture this scene:
Johnson was standing over his third shot at the par-5 15th. He didn't know at the time he had a four-shot lead over Woods because he swore he wasn't keeping track - "Ignorance is bliss," he said.
When he heard the roar from behind, though, Johnson assumed Tiger Woods had made eagle (3) at No. 13. He was correct.
Damon Green, Johnson's caddie, told Johnson at the No. 16 tee box that had a two-shot with three to play.
Johnson proceeded to hit a six-iron to the par-3 green and make birdie on a hole he had bogeyed the three previous days.
Johnson slipped up with a bogey at 17, but made a delicate up- and-down chip for a tap-in par at the 18th to get to the clubhouse at 1-over.
Johnson said it was tough for him to keep his emotions in check with Tiger Woods still on the course.
Tiger Woods missed a chance to make up ground at the par-5 15th, settling for par after hitting his second shot in the water. He also missed a make-able birdie putt at No. 16, the hole he famously chipped in from two years ago.
He came to 17 needing a birdie-birdie finish to tie, but his second shot went awry, which prompted Tiger Woods to say, "Honestly, what the hell just happened?"
When Tiger Woods could only manage par, Johnson had all but clinched the tournament, unless Tiger Woods made an improbably eagle 2 at 18.
"He's done stranger things," Johnson said. "The guy's a phenom."
Tiger Woods made par and finished with a very uneven par 72. He did not shoot a round under par in four days. Twice, he had bogey-bogey finishes on the last two holes.
"So, four bogeys in the last two holes basically cost me the tournament," Tiger Woods said.
Johnson's win wasn't a slam dunk, but it was about layups.
His 16 bogeys for the week were the most for a Masters champion, but he played the four par 5s at 11-under with an interesting strategy.
"I did not go for any green in two this week," Johnson said. "I had my limitations, if you will."
You might call that just good, common, Midwest sense.
Still, no fortune teller could have predicted this.
Johnson never had finished in the top 15 of a major. In two previous Masters' visits, he missed the cut and, last year, finished tied for 32nd.
Johnson and Tiger Woods are the same age, 31, but otherwise are separated by light years.
Tiger Woods has won 56 PGA Tour events and 12 professional majors in his career, including four Masters' titles.
Johnson had one previous PGA victory, in 2004, at the BellSouth, which is played in Atlanta. In a golf sense, that's a million miles from Augusta.
With the help of some Cedar Rapids businessmen who helped subsidize his career, Johnson worked up through the junior circuit. His first year on the Nationwide Tour, in 2000, Johnson earned $10,280.
When he won his last three events on the Hooters' Tour in 2001, his nickname became Back-to-Back-to-Back-Zach."
'I thought those were the best days of my life," Johnson said. 'Chicken wings and everything."
Johnson kept improving and, in 2004, earned his PGA Tour card, but no one outside his support group gave him much of a chance here.
For one day, though, on golf's hallowed grounds, Johnson found his footing.
Every half-century, apparently, a golfer from Iowa beats a legend.
In 1955, Iowa's Jack Fleck shocked Ben Hogan to win the U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
'I do not know much about his career," Johnson said. 'But I do know he is the name in Iowa as far as golf goes," Johnson said. 'That's pretty special putting my name up to next to his."
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