Dustin Johnson Sprinkles Stardust Over Augusta National
DUSTIN JOHNSON once had a reputation for throwing away 54-hole leads in majors, but not this time. He finally added a second major to his CV, winning The Masters in spectacular fashion by breaking the tournament scoring record and finishing five shots ahead of Australia’s Cameron Smith and Sunjae Im, of South Korea.
On a day when defending champion Tiger Woods suffered the humiliation of running up a TEN at the par-three 12th, Johnson's progress towards the Green Jacket was serene. He began the day four ahead and although his lead was reduced to one shot early on he refused to panic and simply waited for his rivals to make mistakes, which they all did in spades.
Rory McIlroy, who started the week with a 75, played superbly for the final three days but he simply gave himself too much to do. If this was a 54-hole tournament he would today be celebrating the career Grand Slam. But it is not.
Johnson famously shot a final round of 82 when leading the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010, allowing Graeme McDowell to win his only major. And there have been several other hiccups on the last day. But this time he never looked in danger.
He played like the best golfer in the world - and that is exactly what he is. Remember, too, that he only recently recovered from Covid-19.
He had four times failed to close the deal when leading a major after the third round, but finished on 20 under par after a breathtaking display of golf.
Smith became the first player in Masters history to shoot four rounds in the 60s and still finished five shots back along with Sungjae Im.
Johnson, who spent 11 days in isolation last month after contracting Covid-19, was out on his own. The only downside was that no patrons were there to witness one of the great performances. Johnson, who closed with a four-under 68, said: “It is an incredible feeling. I have played unbelievable golf all week. The condition of the course definitely helped but I still played really well. To have the scoring record is a great honour.”
Johnson saved special praise for his brother and caddie Austin and for his fiancee Paulina.
“It is an unbelievable feeling to experience all this with my brother,” he said. “Having Paulina there too today was awesome. I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”
He is the first world No1 to win at Augusta since Tiger Woods in 2002. Nineteen months ago here, he finished a shot behind the 15-time Major winner. Woods, who presented him with the Green Jacket, said: “DJ has just an amazing ability to stay calm in tough moments.”
The winner of 23 PGA Tour titles was the form player after five top-two finishes in his last six events. But even with a four-shot lead going into the final day, he knew that he could take nothing for granted. The lowlights of his major meltdowns were that 2010 US Open and three-putting the last green at the 2015 US Open to lose by one.
His four-shot lead was quickly reduced to two by Smith. Bogeys at the fourth and fifth saw Im close within one but Johnson then showed his class. His tee shot at the par-three sixth finished seven feet from the hole. He drained it, while Im missed a short par putt. And that was as close as anybody got.
He kickstarted a hat-trick of birdies by wisely laying up at the 13th and wedging to 13 feet to draw level with the previous scoring record of 18 under held by Woods and Jordan Spieth before picking up two further shots to set a new record of 268.
“I was nervous all day,” said Johnson. “I was very proud of the way I handled myself and the way I finished off.”
Pre-tournament favourite Bryson DeChambeau had aimed to play Augusta National in 20 under but had to settle for a two-under tally and a tie for 34th spot after a closing 73. The US Open champion, who has been suffering from dizziness, said: “I’ve got to fix whatever is going on up there.”
McIlroy followed that awful opening round of 75 with scores of 66, 67 and 69, but he had given himself far too much to do. “I played really well this week,” he said. “It all went wrong when I returned to the course on Friday to complete my first round, but I am proud of the way I stuck with it after that and got myself back into contention."
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