Dustin Johnson makes his dream come true with a historic Masters performance
Dustin Johnson knows what the top of the golf world looks like now.
It’s quite a view for the man who grew up in Irmo, South Carolina – an hour’s drive from Augusta – and dreamed of one day winning the Masters Tournament and slipping on the green jacket that goes to the champion.
Johnson, the first native South Carolinian to win the Masters, on Sunday donned the famed jacket (42 long to be exact) after breaking the tournament scoring record that had stood for 23 years, winning by five shots.
“Growing up so close to here, that’s what it was, dreaming of playing in the Masters, putting on a green jacket,” Johnson said. “Ever since I played in my first Masters, it’s always been the one I wanted to win the most. It still seems like a dream, but hopefully, it’s not.”
His younger brother Austin, his caddie for the past seven years, also knows how much this win means -- to both of them.
“This is the one we’ve been dreaming about,” he said.
Photos: Green Jacket Ceremony
Johnson, a runner-up in the 2019 Masters 19 months ago, was a force from the beginning in the first fall Masters, which was played seven months later than normal because of COVID-19 concerns. He shared the first- and second-round lead and was up by four shots after 54 holes in a tournament that played out without patrons on the course because of the virus.
“He’s always the same D.J., laid back and pretty calm,” said Austin Johnson. “You can’t tell if we’re coming down the stretch of a major or if we’re laying on the couch watching football. But he seemed really focused this morning. He had his mind set on what he wanted to do.”
Fans would have no doubt roared and cheered on the easy-going man known as D.J. as he shot a closing round of 4-under-par 68 to finish at 268, which appropriately was 20-under par for the 72 holes during the 2020 Masters. What’s more, he finished with 20 birdies.
Johnson led the field in greens in regulation (60 of 72) and was sixth in driving distance (306.7 yards). In addition to his 20 birdies, which tied for fifth in the field, he also had only four bogeys – the fewest ever by a Masters champion.
Johnson won by five shots over Korea’s Sungjae Im and Australia’s Cameron Smith, who both closed with 69s. Im tied for the tournament lead with 24 birdies and had the fewest putts – 102 – by six, over Smith. Johnson needed 117 putts, only 27 on Sunday.
Johnson had rare bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5 after a birdie on the third, but offset them with birdies on Nos. 6 and 8 to shoot 1 under on the first nine. He then roared through the second nine in 3-under 33, leaving his challengers by the wayside. He finished with six birdies and two bogeys.
“D.J. was just too good at the end,” Smith said.
Photos: Johnson celebrates Masters win
The margin of victory is the largest here since Tiger Woods won by 12 in 1997.
Johnson said on Saturday night that he looked forward to the challenge of carrying a four-shot lead into the final round and winning for the 24th time since coming out on the PGA Tour in 2008.
Though Johnson had won 10 of the 17 times he had a 54-hole lead in regular PGA Tour events, he was 0-for-4 when leading after three rounds in majors. He trailed by four shots when he won his only other major, at the 2016 U.S. Open.
“Well, I proved that I can get it done on Sunday with the lead at a major, especially in tough conditions,” Johnson said. “I felt like it was tricky out there today. You know, and I proved to myself that I do have it, because I'm sure a lot of y'all think that … or even I, there was doubts in my mind, just because I had been there.
“I'm in this position a lot of times. Like when am I going to have the lead and finish off the golf tournament or finish off a major? For me, it definitely proved that I can do it. ”
His brother agreed: “This is a big weight off his shoulders,” Austin Johnson said.
The 20-under total – or the fact that Johnson shot it – didn’t surprise Patrick Cantlay, who was paired with Johnson the first three rounds.
“I thought 20 under before the week started, I thought somebody would get into the 20s,” said Cantlay, who tied for 17th place. “I thought it would be more rain than we got, but still I thought it was the easiest I’d seen the course play in a long time. And obviously as far as (Johnson) hits it and he’s driving it straight now, there’s a lot of scoring opportunities for him now.”
If it’s any consolation to Smith, one of the runners-up, he became the first player to ever shot four rounds in the 60s in the same Masters (he opened with 67-68-69).
“I honestly can’t believe it,” said Smith, who was unaware of the record until after the round.
“It would have been cool to do that and win,” Smith added. “I’d take 15 under around here the rest of my career and might win a couple.”
It was always thought it would be posted by a winner if it ever happened, but that was OK with Johnson, who had 65s in the first and third round, and shot 70 in the second round. Johnson has a record of his own: the only player to have two rounds of 65-or-below in the same Masters.
Johnson’s 268 broke the tournament record of 270 set by Woods in 1997 and matched by Jordan Spieth in 2015.
Johnson said the softer course conditions of a fall Masters took some of the fire out of normally firm and fast greens and fairways typically seen during an April Masters, but he did have to deal with a tricky wind on the back nine on Sunday.
“I controlled the golf ball very well in difficult conditions,” Johnson said. “I felt like the wind was really tricky. The course, the greens were a little bit faster. Felt like you really had to be careful around here today.”
Photos: DJ's Sunday Round
Johnson, 36, entered the week as the No. 1-ranked player in the world, which normally doesn’t translate into a victory at Augusta National. Since the world ranking started in 1986, only Ian Woosnam (1991) and Woods (2001 and 2002) had won the Masters while ranked No. 1.
Johnson, never one to seek the limelight, stayed true to form with the way he won. After hitting his birdie putt on the 18th green within tap-in range, he was teary-eyed and chose not to mark the ball but putt out before his playing partner did, not the usual order of things for the champion.
As he left the green, after giving a small fist pump, Johnson hugged Austin, and was greeted by his fiancée Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky. They have two young children together, Tatum and River Jones.
“It means so much to me,” said Johnson, who teared up during an interview after the green jacket ceremony in Butler Cabin. “It means so much to my family, Paulina, the kids. They know it's something that I've always been dreaming about and it's why I work so hard. You know, I put in a lot of work off the golf course, on the golf course, and I think it's just, it's something that you push yourself for. That's why I work so hard is to be in this position. And you know, to finally have the dream come true, I think that's why you see all that emotion.”