A different Tiger, and a different winner
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
AUGUSTA, Ga. ” The golf world caught a glimpse of a different Tiger Woods, one who coughs up majors on weekdays, gets the lead on Sunday and then lets it go, and staggers to the finish stewing over what might have been.
A different Masters winner, too. By the name of Zach Johnson.
The aw-shucks kid from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was more than a beneficiary of the mistakes Woods made Sunday. And Saturday. And Thursday.
Johnson earned it. He shot a closing 3-under 69 that included three birdies on the back nine while Tiger was lurking, grinding, trying to make a move.
Johnson wound up at 1-over 289 for a two-stroke win over Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini, matching the highest winning score in Masters history.
“This is very surreal,” Johnson said. “Very, very surreal.”
Surely Tiger would agree. When his career is over and he’s done tallying all his major victories, he’ll likely look at the 2007 Masters as one of the few that got away.
“I had a chance,” said Woods, who shot 72 and stayed stuck on 12 majors, four of them at Augusta. “But looking back over the week, I basically blew this tournament on two rounds where I had bogey-bogey finishes. That’s 4 over on two holes. You can’t afford to do that and win major championships.”
Those four bogeys ” two each on Thursday and Saturday ” put Woods in comeback mode for the final round, when there were finally good scores to be had on an Augusta National course that grew more forgiving after three brutal rounds of wind, sun and sky-high scores.
Woods put up one of those good scores. It was an eagle 3 on the par-5 13th that pulled him within two of Johnson and sent one of those massive roars echoing through the Georgia pines.
Guys like Johnson were supposed to start choking once they hear those roars, which came all too seldomly during this rugged week. Turns out Johnson wasn’t even looking at the scoreboard.
“You know, I backed off the shot, maybe partially because of the roars,” said Johnson, who was on the 15th fairway at the time. “I assumed it was Tiger making an eagle. That was just an assumption. I didn’t really look at the board.”
Johnson responded with a safe par on 15. Next, he hit his tee shot on 16 to 12 feet for a birdie to restore the lead to three. By the time he got to 17, it was just a matter of playing it safe and putting it away. He made bogey there, but it didn’t cost him.
“I think my mind frame was very clear the entire week, especially today, even on the back nine,” Johnson said. “I was hitting solid shots and I felt like if I gave myself opportunities to make birdies … I felt like we could make some putts.”
Tiger’s last decent chance to apply pressure came on the par-5 15th, when he tried to get to the green in 2. That shot landed in the water, however, and when the tournament was over, Tiger wasn’t lamenting that shot so much as the strokes he’d given away earlier in the week.
Johnson gave away strokes, too, never more than during his bogey-bogey-bogey finish on Friday. But he didn’t repeat his closing-hole mistakes the way Woods did. When nobody else could take control of the tournament, Johnson was in position to show he had the stuff to take it himself.
“I think as long as you focus on what you’re doing and you don’t think ahead, you’re going to be fine,” Sabbatini said. “Zach’s just proof of that. He’s a very level-headed golfer.”
He needed to be on a week that will go down as the most brutal in Masters history.
Some calmer winds and less punitive pin positions Sunday helped scores go lower than they had all week. But in many ways, the damage had been done. The winning score tied for the worst ever and the average of 75.881 was the highest in 41 years.
It sounded like the perfect spot for the world’s best player to win again.
Indeed, Woods looked like a lock for his third straight major when he took the lead after a short birdie on the second hole.
But that’s where the story line changed.
Woods lost his lead for the third time during the final round of a major, and this was the first time he ever failed to get it back.
His signature moment from this Masters: Snapping the shaft of his 4-iron after making a desperation punch-out from behind a tree where his drive landed on the 11th hole.
He saved par there, but made too many shots like his approach on No. 17 ” “What the hell was that?” Woods said when it landed short in a bunker ” that forced him to scramble for pars when he really needed birdies.
Despite his problems, he had a much better day than defending champion Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson was among the first to go on record saying an over-par score was going to win this tournament. He kept saying he thought he could get near the lead.
He hit three shots from the sand on the first hole en route to a 7, getting his final-round major meltdown over with early and guaranteeing he’d only play a ceremonial role in Butler Cabin later.
As defending champion, Mickelson put the green jacket on Johnson.
What a day for the 31-year-old, who was plugging away on the Hooters Tour in 2001 when his buddy, Augusta native Vaughn Taylor, scraped up some tickets for a Monday practice round at the Masters. It was Johnson’s first trip to Augusta National.
“My mouth was agape,” Johnson said. “I was in Augusta. You don’t see that on the mini-tours.”
He’s come a long way since then.
Now he has the green jacket to prove it.
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