It was a thrilling finish full of drama and a throwback to the very best edge-of-your-seat Masters finales of years gone by. When the dust settled late on Sunday evening it was the American Ryder Cup player Zach Johnson who had emerged victorious to receive a cheque for £664,000 and the coveted Green Jacket from 2006 champion Phil Mickelson.
It was only the second victory of Johnson’s career on the PGA Tour and his first Major title. His coolness on the 18th hole under the fiercest pressure belied his lack of prior experience of competing at the highest level on the final day of a Major.
Just four years ago he was a member of the Nationwide Tour and, despite topping the money list in 2003 with a then record total, few punters last week are likely to have taken a chance on him at odds of 150/1. His only other previous victory on the main Tour came at the 2004 Bellsouth Classic and although he showed the required consistency to qualify automatically for Tom Lehman’s 2006 Ryder Cup team it was almost three years since he had managed to get over the finishing line in front on the last day of a tournament.
The 31 year-old, a devout Christian, finished on +1 – low enough for a two stroke victory but high enough to equal the Masters record for the highest aggregate winning score, a record that had stood for over fifty years. South African duo Rory Sabbatini and Retief Goosen, who both finished on +3, each had chances to claim the title themselves but stumbled at crucial moments on what was yet another day of high scores in the Georgia sunshine.
World number one Tiger Woods finished level with Goosen and Sabbatini in the runner-up position, but never really looked comfortable over the four days. An eagle three on the 13th put him within striking distance of his 13th Major but this was not the Woods we have become accustomed to seeing over the last nine months. Attempting to repeat the feat on the par-5 15th, he put his second shot into the lake in front of the green. Despite still making par it ended to any realistic hopes of catching Johnson, who was already in the clubhouse on +1. As a result Woods was frustrated in his quest to win a Major for the first time when not leading going into the final day – the only blot on what has so far been an almost perfect career.
With Woods not at his fluent best, arguably the biggest hard luck story of the 2007 renewal surrounded England’s Justin Rose. After carding double bogeys on the 1st and 3rd he battled back admirably, and a birdie two on the 16th put him within one shot of the winner. However, he pushed his tee shot on the 17th into the trees to the right of the fairway and an unlucky bounce off the bark made things even worse. Another double bogey signalled the end of his brave attempt to become Europe’s first Major winner for eight years and he eventually had to settle for a share of fifth place on +4, three behind the winner.
Johnson himself overcame his share of demons on the way to the title. During Friday’s second round he led briefly before three putting from five feet on the 16th green, and when a bogey on the 17th cut his lead to one shot yesterday his fans were probably fearing the worst. I am sure they could barely watch as his approach to the 18th narrowly missed the bunker on the right of the green, but a brave chip shot under huge pressure enabled him to get up-and-down and ultimately gave him the vital two stroke cushion.
“I knew I could win on the Major scene,” an emotional Johnson said.
“I felt everything was ready and I had prepared really well. I just tried to be non-emotional out there. That was one of my goals. I tried to stay in the moment, not think too far ahead and stick to my routines. It’s amazing what God can do. I believe in myself, but every now and then you miss a putt and have moments of doubt – I’m lucky to have had so much support.”
THE MASTERS – LEADING SCORES
Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia, USA
US unless stated
+1 Z Johnson
+3 T Woods, R Goosen (RSA), R Sabbatini (RSA)
+4 J Rose (Eng), J Kelly
+5 P Harrington (Ire), S Appleby (Aus)