16 Nov 2020 | Professional golf |
Johnson supreme at Augusta
by Martin Blake
Dustin Johnson has set a new scoring record in winning the green jacket of the Masters for the first time, the high point of an already-stellar career.
American Johnson, already the world No. 1, was supreme on the final day at Augusta National, closing with a 68 and holding off Australia’s Cameron Smith and South Korea’s Sungjae Im, two of the best young players in the world, to win by five shots.
His 20-under total of 268 beats the previous landmark of 270 set by Jordan Spieth in 2015 and Tiger Woods in 1997.
Realistically, Johnson’s resume in majors – just one victory before today – looked to be almost anomalous. For a player of his brutal power and sublime short-game touch, it was not enough of a return.
A little like Greg Norman before him, Johnson has found ways to lose majors that looked to be his, either by his own hand or someone else’s. For example, four times before today he took the 54-hole lead but could not convert it into a win. He has been runner-up in all four of the majors and his only previous victory was at the US Open in 2016.
But this time, he would not falter.
Johnson had his moments, notably consecutive bogeys with a three-putt at the fourth and from the fairway trap at the fifth. His lead – four shots overnight – had shrunk to two when an apparently nerveless Smith made a miraculous birdie at the par-four ninth.
Then the Australian made a mistake at Amen Corner – a poor second shot to the par-four 11th from the fairway that cost him a shot – and Johnson, in contrast, played with dead calm through that stretch of the course.
At the 12th, with a three-shot lead but with a lifetime’s knowledge of what calamity is possible in the ominous Rae’s Creek, his eight iron found the putting surface. At the par-five 13th, he laid up because of a mud ball, but nailed the birdie putt after a nice wedge in.
The hammer blow came at the par-four 14th, where he pummeled his tee shot and then caressed a short iron shot in to two metres from the cup and rolled the putt in for birdie.
The lead was five from Smith. It was all but over.
It was a subdued final day in keeping with the crowdless, November Masters, both firsts.
Tiger Woods made the worst score on a single hole in his professional career, a 10 at the par-four 12th hole where he hit three balls into the water, then birdied five of the last six holes as though to thumb his nose at the indignity of it.
"This is unlike any other sport in which you're so alone out there and you have to figure it out and you have to fight and no one is going to bring you off the mound or call in a sub and you just have to figure it out, and I did coming in," he said afterward.
Rory McIlroy momentarily threatened then faded. Nobody came out of the pack to make a run, and it was left to the 27-year-old Smith to be the primary challenger. He handled it well, but needless to say, this is difficult territory.
The 36-year-old father-of-two Johnson merely did what he needed to do and while the likes of Smith and Im fought hard, both are inexperienced at being in contention on the final day. It looked to be the American’s to lose, and he was not about to hand it over.
The exclamation mark came at the 15th, where again, he made the conservative play by laying up short of the pond, then wedged in close and made birdie. His back nine of 33 was near-flawless, rounded out with a pure iron to the 18th green and two putts for the win.
"I was nervous all day, I could feel it,” he said later. “You know the Masters, to me, it’s the biggest tournament, the one I wanted to win the most. I felt it all day. I’m just very proud of the way I handled myself and the way I finished off the golf tournament.”
He held the lead, or at least a share of it, through every round of the tournament – just the eighth to do it in Masters history. He is a champion of the game, unequivocally. That jacket fits nicely on his shoulders. LEADERBOARD
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