Johnson got over a shaky start that brought up memories of past majors that he failed to complete. He turned that into a command performance, making sure this one-of-a-kind Fanless Masters didn’t have any drama either.
Not even close.
Johnson pared the 18th for a 4 under 68 to finish at 20 under 268, breaking by two strokes the record set by Tiger Woods in 1997 and tied by Jordan Spieth in 2015.
His 5-stroke victory was the most important at the Masters since Woods won it by 12 in his record-breaking 1997 win. All that was missing were the roars of one of his crucial early putts and his birdie on the last nine that put it one way.
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The Masters, postponed from April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was forced to do without clients for the first time. Johnson nevertheless received a warm welcome on the 18th from the club members and their wives, his partner, Paulina Gretzky, and a few champions.
Two-time champion Bubba Watson was there to congratulate him.
“I’ve always dreamed of having one,” Johnson said as he went to sign his card. “Now I have one. Johnson’s 4-stroke lead was reduced to 1 after five holes, then he quickly regained control. Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im each shot 69 and were the only ones who really stood a chance.
Smith had all the consolation. He became the first player in Masters history to win all four rounds in the ’60s, and all that got him was a silver medal. Johnson became the 12th Masters champion to never lag after a round, and his closing 68 broke another record held by Woods – it was his 11th consecutive round under-par at Augusta National.
No one has had a better result than defending champion Woods, but only after the five-time Masters champion posted the highest score of his career, with three balls at Rae’s Creek for a 10 on the 12th par 3 hole. He finished with five birdies over the last six holes to collect a 76.
Betting favorite and greatest golfer Bryson DeChambeau couldn’t even beat 63-year-old Bernhard Langer, who shot 71 and finished 1 shot ahead of the US Open champion.
These were just side shows on a quiet Sunday at Augusta National.
A fanless Masters played in November took away some of the charm of the event, but one tradition that stuck was that of the previous year’s winner, Tiger Woods, putting the green jacket on new champion Dustin Johnson.
Johnson, the first No.1 player in the world to win the Masters since Woods in 2002, was the main event. He’s won for the 25th time in the world and his second major – he won the US Open 4 strokes behind at Oakmont in 2016 – has big advantages. He can return for the rest of his life and will host the Masters Club dinner next April for the Champions.
But even a record score, and the biggest margin of victory since Woods’ victory in 1997, didn’t mean it was easy. It was Johnson, after all, who, for all his talent, faced more than his share of misfortune, not all of his own work.
He was the 16th player to take at least a 4-stroke lead in the Masters final round, and only four failed to win, most recently Rory McIlroy in 2011.
This lead was reduced to 1 shot after five holes.
Short of the bunker at par 5, Johnson smothered his flop in the bunker and had to fight for par at the easiest hole on the course on Sunday. After settling down with a birdie on No 3 he came off the green and took 3 putts for bogey, then found a fairway bunker on the fifth tee, had to fall into place and made another bogey.
I started with two birdies in three holes and saved par with a fabulous flop in a bunker behind the fifth green. Suddenly he was pulled behind. In front of them was Smith, suddenly two blows behind.
Just when it looked like Johnson was heading for a fit, everything changed on one hole.
Johnson’s tee shot to a pin on the top right shelf at the sixth par-3 came in at 6 feet for birdie. Im chipped just behind the green at 3 feet and missed the putt by. Johnson’s lead was back to 3.
Then, with Johnson blocked by pine branches and having to strike low in a front bunker at No.7, Im from the fairway sailed the green into a bunker, exploded across the green and bogeyed.
Smith was still within 2 strokes when they made the turn, and the wind was stronger than it had been all week, but the Aussie could only handle one birdie, and at that point it was too late.
Nothing is sweeter than riding up the steep hill to the 18th green with a 5-stroke lead and a green jacket pending. Except in this case, there was no one to applaud, hardly anyone to watch.
There were no roars this week. The white and pink flowers of azaleas and dogwood were replaced with golden and brown hues of Augusta in the fall. It was truly a Masters like no other, except that there was no doubt about that green jacket.
It’s a good choice for Johnson.