Zach Johnson Shapes 1-Stroke Win at Kapalua
By Rodney S. Yap
Playing to his strengths, Zach Johnson shaped his 11th PGA Tour victory on Maui Monday, swinging wedges with the precision and the confidence of a surgeon, operating one stroke better than sophomore sensation Jordan Spieth — soon-to-be the PGA Tour’s next household name.
Johnson managed his second bogey-free round of 7-under-par 66 at The Plantation Course in Kapalua, completing his eighth come-from-behind title en route to a 19-under-par 273 total.
Johnson, 37, collected $1.14 million, the keys to a 2014 Hyundai, and 500 FedExCup points that moved him from No. 72 to No. 7 in the standings.
“I just picked it apart,” Johnson said. “I didn’t deviate from anything that I typically do on the golf course. Its fairways and greens for me and I try to stay below the hole. . . . The one thing I prayed about this morning was to just have peace out here, regardless of the situation, whether I was five down or five up. I’m thankful I had my family with me.”
Spieth, the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, shared the overnight lead with Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson before closing with a 69, good for second place at 18-under 274.
Simpson carded a 70 and tied for third at minus-17. The 2012 US Open winner ended alongside Kevin Streelman, who birdied four of his last five holes for a final-round 67.
Jason Dufner (69) grabbed fifth at 15-under, while Johnson (73), Adam Scott (69), Matt Kuchar (67) and Horschel shared sixth at minus-14. Johnson, last year’s champion, mixed five bogeys and five birdies during the final round.
“It was a great experience for me, feeling the nerves, battling, having the lead on the back nine,” said the 20-year-old Spieth. “I’m just trying to prove to myself what I can do. I’m not out there trying to prove anything to anybody else. I want to put myself in those positions, because it was fun today. It’s fun to feel that pressure, it’s fun to tap the adrenaline rush and look on the leaderboard and see your name next to some of the best players in the world.”
Reminding himself to be patient under pressure, Johnson briefly sat to admire the panoramic view of nearby Molokai after his tee shot at 17. Then he sealed his second straight win by recording pars on the final two holes. Johnson ended last year by beating Woods in a playoff at the world number one’s World Challenge in California.
Trailing by two strokes going into Monday’s final round, Johnson quickly made up the deficit by making short birdie putts Nos. 2, 5 and 7 to join Spieth atop the leaderboard at minus-15.
Johnson said he was comfortable not being the frontrunner on the final day.
“Today I just tried to remain athletic,” said the ninth-ranked player in the world. “I tried to stay unemotional, remain athletic over my putts and as a result we saw a lot go in.”
Johnson again pulled even with Spieth at No. 12, where he nailed his approach from 90 yards, rolling to within a foot and tap-in for birdie to go 16-under.
After a par at the 13th, Johnson drained three straight birdie putts from within eight feet to pull ahead. The decisive run left him three strokes clear before parring out.
“Getting the ball in the fairway and giving my wedges a chance was crucial,” said Johnson, who won the 2009 Sony Open in Hawaii. “It’s about plotting my way, putting myself in a yardage spot that I know is going to give me an opportunity.”
Johnson was subdued in celebration afterwards, his thoughts on Simpson’s regular caddie Paul Tesori whose newborn son is in intensive care in a Florida hospital.
“That’s where my heart was today and that’s where my mind was a lot of the day.”