Will Dustin Johnson’s big Masters win open the door to more major titles?
Just a month ago, Dustin Johnson was holed up in a Las Vegas hotel room self-quarantining for 11 days after testing positive for COVID-19.
Now, after a week of record-setting brilliance at Augusta National Golf Club, he can head to the exclusive Champions Locker Room for the rest of his life.
The world No. 1 played to his ranking with a masterful performance and put a few tragic near-misses and collapses in the final rounds of past majors behind him on Sunday by winning the coveted green jacket in the 84th Masters Tournament.
With rounds of 65-70-65-68, Johnson finished five shots clear of the field and set the tournament scoring record for 72 holes with his 20-under 268. That was two shots clear of the previous mark set by Jordan Spieth (2015) and Woods (1997).
Johnson, 36, is the only player to reach and finish 20 under in a Masters. It is the second major title for Johnson, who won the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, and his 24th PGA Tour title.
And it fulfilled a childhood dream of the young boy growing up on the outskirts of Columbia, S.C., about an hour down the road, putting and chipping long into the night fantasizing about winning the Masters.
“Still kind of think it’s a dream,” Johnson said. “Growing up so close to here, it’s always been a tournament that since I’ve been on Tour, since I played my first Masters, it’s been the tournament I wanted to win the most.”
Johnson began the final round with a four-shot lead but saw it dwindle to one shot by the sixth hole. There, he hit an 8-iron to six feet and made birdie and never let anyone get within two shots the rest of the way. He upped his unreachable lead with birdies at 13, 14 and 15. Coming up 18, the carefree, laid-back Johnson didn’t know how big his lead was. Didn’t matter. He tapped in for par, and the man who has been criticized for only winning one major up to then had No. 2.
Photos: Johnson celebrates Masters win
“Obviously the first major’s the hardest, but then I would say the second one is just as hard,” he said. “They are all difficult to win. It’s just hard to get it done in a major for some reason. I’ve had the lead a couple times and haven’t been able to finish it off, and so it is very nice to have a lead and then play well on Sunday and get the win. I couldn’t be more happy.”
Johnson teared up during the ceremony following the tournament, a rare sight for a man who hides his emotions so well. But more than an hour later, he was still beaming as he walked the grounds in his new green jacket – size 42 long – that Woods helped him slip on.
“Obviously having Tiger put it on was awesome and unbelievable and, you know, you wouldn’t want it any other way,” Johnson said. “But any guy could put it on me and I’d be just fine.”
For Johnson, the win extended a scorching heater he’s been on the past two months. In seven tournaments, he’s won three times – the Northern Trust, The Tour Championship and the Masters – and finished runner-up three times. He also tied for sixth in the U.S. Open.
“Since coming back out of the lockdown, he has been by far the best player in the world,” said Rory McIlroy, who fell short in his bid to complete the career Grand Slam. “He’s won a few times, won a FedEx Cup, had a chance at Harding Park (in the PGA Championship). He’s had so many chances and hasn’t quite been able to close the deal, but his resume speaks for itself, how many times he’s won on the PGA Tour, how consistent he’s been. I played with him the first two days here. He’s got the ball on a string. It was really impressive.”
It’s been extraordinary for quite some time.
“As we’ve all seen, he’s an amazing athlete,” Woods said. “He’s one of the first guys to ever bring athleticism to our sport. D.J. has just an amazing ability to stay calm in tough moments, and in order to win this event, and we all know as past champions how hard it is, the emotions we have to deal with out there.
“There’s no one more suited to that, I think, than D.J.”
Photos: DJ's Sunday Round
Johnson was in similar form heading into the 2017 Masters; he was the world No. 1 and had won three consecutive tournaments. But a bad fall in his rental home injured his back and he wasn’t able to compete. This year, after he rid himself of the coronavirus, he was healthy and ready to tackle Augusta National despite doing next to nothing for nearly three weeks and being forced to miss two events.
He announced his presence here with authority with an opening-round 65, the lowest score he’s ever shot at Augusta National. After a 70 in the second round, he made the game look easy with another 65 in the third round as he hit all 14 fairways in regulation for the first time in his Masters career and took a four-shot lead over three players into Sunday.
It was the fifth time Johnson took at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major. But he had failed to convert on the previous four occasions. He shot 82 in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole to lose by one to Spieth in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Earlier this year, he took a one-shot lead into the final round at Harding Park in the PGA but got passed by Collin Morikawa’s great round.
But Johnson prevailed this time.
“I proved that I can get it done on Sunday with the lead at a major, especially in tough conditions,” said Johnson, who hit 83 percent of his greens and 79 percent of his fairways in regulation this week. “I felt like it was tricky out there. I proved to myself that I do have it, because I’m sure a lot of y’all think there were doubts in my mind, just because I had been there. I’m in this position a lot of times.
“For me, it definitely proved that I can do it.”
His swing instructor, Claude Harmon III, didn’t have any doubts.
“His attitude is, I can’t control what happened in the past. We as a team have never talked about what happened at Chambers Bay. You would think somewhere along the line, after that, he’d go, man, I was so close,” Harmon said. “But D.J. reminds me of an NFL quarterback or cornerback who throws an interception or gets burned, that you have to go right back out with the same attitude. You can’t let that stuff dwell. He is so good at that.
“(This second major) changes the narrative for sure. In a lot of ways, he will get the justice he deserves.”
Now, after struggling to win No. 2, he wants No. 3. And then 4, 5 and 6 and on.
“I’m not going to dial anything back,” Johnson said. “I feel really good about everything that I’m doing. I feel really confident in the golf game. My goal is to play for about, I don’t know, keeps getting shorter, but eight, nine, maybe 10 years, and then hang out with my kids and Paulina (Gretzky).
“So until then, I’m going to work my butt off to be as good as I can.”