VIDEO: Zach can come back
KAPALUA – Call Zach Johnson every man’s champion.
Johnson watched his three-stoke lead evaporate into a two-stroke deficit behind three players Sunday, but methodically worked his way around the expanse of the Kapalua Plantation Course on Monday to win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Johnson’s 7-under-par 66 left him at 19-under 273 for the tournament, one stroke better than Jordan Spieth (69).
Kevin Streelman (67) and Webb Simpson (70) tied for third, one more shot back.
“I just picked it apart,” Johnson said after his 11th PGA Tour victory and third in his last six starts. “I didn’t deviate away from anything I typically do on the golf course. It’s fairways and greens for me. I’m trying to give myself an aggressive look and trusting what I’m doing – remaining patient was the big thing. Especially after yesterday, it was remaining patient.”
Johnson’s 74 on Sunday matched the worst round by an eventual winner at Kapalua – Stuart Appleby was 1-over in the first round on the way to a victory 2005.
“Yesterday I got golfed,” Johnson said. “I didn’t feel like I played that bad yesterday. If anything, I put myself in that posture where I feel like I’m an underdog. I didn’t like putting myself in a two-shot-deficit posture, but sometimes that’s the way it works.”
Johnson has come from behind on the final day in eight of his wins.
“I’ve always liked the teams and the individuals that are coming from behind, that are not supposed to win,” Johnson said. “Those always intrigued me in sports. Competition intrigues me more than anything, but the competitive aspects that really drive me are those situations where Wichita State makes the Final Four, George Mason and Butler almost win a national title. I love that kind of stuff.”
On Monday, the short-but-straight hitter steadily played his way into contention, then slammed the door down the stretch with three straight birdies, on Nos. 14, 15 and 16 – holes which he had played 1 over for the first three rounds.
Spieth was 6 under on the same set the first three days, but parred all three Monday.
“I started getting really anxious on 14, 15, 16 when it wasn’t going my way there,” the 20-year-old Spieth admitted.
Johnson played bogey-free, and tied Billy Horschel for the best round of the day on the way to earning $1.14 million and qualifying for next year’s edition of the winners-only event.
“Today I had a lot of opportunities,” Johnson said. “Some I did capitalize on, some I didn’t.”
Johnson had gone just 4 under on the four par-5s for the first three days – including 1 under cumulative in rounds two and three – before he birdied the fifth and 15th on Monday at the long-hitters’ paradise.
“I like trying to fight to get to that win,” Johnson said. “I think the main reason is because there are so many good players out here. So even though I might be playing as good as everybody else or potentially even better, it’s just hard.”
Johnson said his wife, Kim, wishes he would make it easier on the family.
“Sorry, honey,” he said. “There are just too many good players out here.”
Streelman made a run, but ran out of holes. Spieth essentially had his chances roll away on the par-5 15th.
Spieth yelled “yes” after hitting his second shot on 15, but it rolled back off of the green, bringing a “You have got to be kidding me” comment. He then saw his pitch on his third shot roll off the green as well, giving him a longer fourth shot. He finally got on and made par on the hole, which played as the fourth-easiest on the course this week.
“It was exactly what I wanted, I hammered one,” Spieth said of his 252-yard second shot. “It didn’t quite get high enough, I knew that, but it must have been going 200 miles an hour.”
Spieth birdied No. 17 to get to 17 under, then watched from the 18th fairway, two back, as Johnson burned the edge on a birdie putt on the 72nd hole, leaving the remote possibility of a playoff if Spieth could eagle.
Spieth left his second shot off the green and Johnson could hear the revving engine of the Hyundai Equus – the champion receives
the car on a one-year lease – when Spieth’s 80-foot putt didn’t find the bottom of the cup.
Spieth made his eight-footer for birdie, but said he won’t lament any one shot this week.
“No, I won’t kill myself with that,” Spieth said. “To be able to stay with it, close it out, and be bogey-free and having a share of the lead, no matter what the golf course is, I’m definitely happy with that.”
Johnson was ranked 24th in the world at the end of 2012. He entered this week ranked ninth after a dramatic playoff win over Tiger Woods in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge last month and is projected to move to seventh when the rankings come out this morning. He is also seventh in the FedEx Cup standings – a jump of 65 spots.
Since Johnson’s rookie season in 2004, only Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have won more on tour.
“If somebody were to ask me 10 years ago, 11 years ago, it would have been more than I thought,” Johnson said. “We’re sitting here right now, and who knows what you’re going to ask me 10 years from now – hopefully it’s the same type of question, but those are the kind of things that are out of my control. So I’m going to try to control what I can control and that is keeping my game simple and just keep doing what I’m doing.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com