World’s No. 1-ranked player goes wire-to-wire for record-setting 20-under 268 score at Augusta National Golf Club
Jab his brother in the side.
Austin, Johnson’s younger brother and caddie, stood next to Dustin and had tears running down his suddenly red cheeks as they waited for Dustin’s turn to putt. The sight got to Johnson.
“He was tearing up and making me tear up,” Dustin Johnson said later. “Like, I gotta finish this off. I can’t be crying.”
With utter domination of this Masters, Johnson was about to smash the tournament’s all-time scoring record. He faced a makable birdie putt with a five-stroke lead. He could’ve been sobbing like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert and still gotten it done. Moist eyes or not, Johnson lagged his putt close and then tapped in to make it official.
The 36-year-old Johnson is your Masters champion. It wasn’t as easy as the five-shot margin of victory would suggest, but in a couple of years, no one will believe that.
What they will remember is Johnson’s sick display of power, his unrelenting accuracy and his better-than-ever touch on the greens, which had not previously been a hallmark of Johnson’s career. A recent putting session with World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman helped improve Johnson’s stroke and his confidence. The result was a record-setting week (scores).
“Well, he got on fire,” Spain’s Jon Rahm said of Johnson. “That’s the best way you can explain it.”
Only five 65s were posted all week, and Johnson shot two of them, thus becoming the first player to shoot 65 or better twice in one Masters. He also broke the Masters record for fewest bogeys. Johnson had only four over 72 holes, besting a mark shared by Jack Nicklaus and Jimmy Demaret.
“Since coming back out of the lockdown [in June], Dustin has been by far the best player in the world,” said Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who gamely bounced back from an opening 75 but never got close to Johnson. “I played with him the first two days here. He had the ball on a string. It was really impressive.”
The superlatives about Johnson are about to start pouring like cold beer likely did at a certain winner’s celebration party. They are deserved, if not overdue. Johnson was respected for his first 23 PGA Tour wins, including his 2016 U.S. Open title at Oakmont. He already was earmarked for the Hall of Fame.
Adding this Masters to his resume will elevate his legacy in the game. Win No. 24 ties him with Gary Player on the PGA Tour’s official victory list (although Player had dozens more titles around the world not counted by the Tour). Johnson is now in lofty company.
Even better, this Masters will not only eliminate the questions about Johnson’s past major-championship failures, it will validate those high finishes. It will probably sound something like this: “Johnson has two major titles, and look how often he has come close – five runner-up finishes, a third and a fourth!”
The questions about being 0 for 4 in major championships when holding the 54-lead are buried. Now he’s 1 for 5, and no one ever has gone lower than 20 under par in any major championship.
“It was a battle all day, an internal battle with myself,” Johnson said. “It never got easier. I thought it would, but it never did, not from the first tee until the last putt. Yeah, the first major is the hardest, but the second one is just as hard.”
Johnson opened the fourth round with a four-shot lead, and it was immediately apparent that, yes, a second major would be just as hard.
Johnson didn’t miss a fairway in Saturday’s third round, but his opening tee shot Sunday ended up in the first cut. He hit the green and made par – no damage done – but the nerves still were jangling.
His tee shot found the right rough on the second hole, and he hit his ugliest shot of the week from there, slamming a 3-wood shot that got just high enough to knock a top hat off a hedgehog (if hedgehogs were allowed at Augusta National but, ahem, they aren’t). His ball rolled down just short of the right greenside bunker, where he dumped his pitch shot into the sand.
The Ghosts of Blown Majors Past were screeching, but Johnson played a superlative sand shot to 2 feet and saved par. He rolled in a beautiful 18-footer for birdie at the third hole, then three-putted for bogey from in front of the fourth green and bogeyed the fifth hole after driving into the fairway bunker.
Australia’s Cameron Smith and South Korea’s Sungjae Im were slowly creeping up on Johnson. Im was just one shot back after the fifth hole.
The par-3 sixth was where Johnson and the Masters righted itself. Im went long over the green and missed a short par putt. Johnson stuck a nice iron shot to 7 feet and made it for birdie. He added another birdie at the eighth.
After that, Johnson was back in his comfortable zone of superiority. He put all of his pursuers out of their misery early on the back nine when he went birdie-birdie-birdie at 13, 14 and 15.
Smith and Im were game competitors, each shooting 69, but they didn’t hit greens like Johnson did en route to his 68. They were scrambling for their lives just to stay within shouting distance. They may have become stars in their own way on this stage. Im’s slow-slow-slow backswing led to lovely drives as straight as bullet trains, and Smith got up-and-down from unlikely places, stealing pars like a master thief in a PlayStation video game.
“My chipping and putting were unreal this week,” conceded Smith, 27, a Queensland native who won the Sony Open in January. “It was probably the best it’s ever been.”
He pulled off two of the final round’s most remarkable plays. At the seventh, he flared a drive way right, then
somehow plowed an iron shot through no apparent opening onto the green and holed a 20-footer for a crazy birdie. At the ninth, he hit an approach off pine straw from beneath a tall pine and watched his ball land just past the greenside bunker, dribble onto the fringe, catch a slope and trickle down to within a few feet for another birdie.
It wasn’t enough to catch Johnson, of course.
Johnson grew up about an hour east of Augusta, in Columbia, S.C., and learned the game on a lighted range there. He showed some promise on the Coastal Carolina University golf team, but few expected a golfing great. Johnson is a gifted athlete and a physical specimen who could dunk a basketball in his bare feet.
Now, after winning the event he wanted to win most, he might prove to be the best golfer of the post-Tiger Era. Johnson has won at least once on the PGA Tour for 13 seasons in a row. Only Jack Nicklaus (17) and Woods (14) have done it longer.
The big takeaway from Johnson’s performance should be to reconsider just how good his career is and, after that 20-under battering, how it feels as if he’s just hitting his stride.
“I played unbelievable golf all week,” Johnson said. “It’s an incredible feeling. Dreaming about winning the Masters as a kid and having Tiger put the green jacket on you; it still feels like a dream.”
Golf has seen the No. 1 world ranking passed around, as Golf Channel host Rich Lerner described it, “like a tray of hors d’oeuvres.” Plenty of great players have held it, but the best of the best are the ones who figure out how to sustain their level of play.
Johnson has held the No. 1 ranking for a total of 104 weeks. In three more weeks, he’ll move past Rory McIlroy (106) into third on the all-time list behind Woods, at 683 weeks, and his putting coach, Norman, 331 weeks. Think about it: Johnson has been No. 1 for seven more weeks than Nick Faldo; 60 more weeks than Nick Price; and, for the record, 104 more weeks than Phil Mickelson.
“For me, this definitely proved that I can do it,” Johnson said. There were doubts in my mind, like, When am I going to have the lead and finish off a major? I knew I was playing well enough to do it.
“I couldn’t be more happy. And I think I look pretty good in green, too.”
It had been 19 months since the previous Masters. Johnson and his brother made this one worth the wait.
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