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Zach Johnson brushed off chilly conditions to win 10 years ago at Augusta National

By Garry Smits
Published on

Being an Iowa boy, Zach Johnson will never mind playing golf in a little cold weather.

The weekend at the Augusta National Golf Club in 2007 was about as cold as it's gotten for a Masters Tournament. The scores reflected it, with no player finishing under par for the first time in 51 years and for only the third time in tournament history.

"The third round was miserable," Johnson said of temperatures that never got out of the mid-50s, with swirling, gusting wind that topped out at 25 miles per hour.

But the fourth round, while not much warmer, remains the day of Johnson's professional life.

The St. Simons Island, Ga., resident shook off a 76 on Saturday and with a closing 69 that matched the low round of the day, won the Masters by two shots at 1-over-par 289, tying Jack Burke and Sam Snead (1954) for the highest score by a winner.

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It was Johnson's third start ever in the tournament and he was the 12th to win with three or less years of experience in patrolling Augusta National.

Johnson said he has the same time-warp type of feelings as many people do when going down memory lane.

"Sometimes it feels like 10 years, sometimes it feels more, and there are moments when it feels like yesterday," Johnson said. "But when I see my son at 10 and a half, it really puts into perspective."

That's because the most touching scene of the week was when Johnson's wife Kim brought their infant son Will to the 18th green to meet her husband after he got up-and-down from in front of the green for par to secure his victory over two multiple major championship winners, Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen, plus Rory Sabbatini.

Johnson began that week with a pedestrian 71 in benign conditions that left him in a tie for fifth, two shots behind Justin Rose and Brett Wetterich. With the course playing fast and firm, a 73 in the second round didn't change his status in relation to the leaders, and he entered the weekend at even-par 144, two shots behind Wetterich and Tim Clark and one behind local favorite Vaughn Taylor.

Ordinarily, a 76 on moving day would knock players out of contention. But everyone struggled as the third round featured colder and windier conditions, and a course that was turning absolutely brutish.

The third-round scoring average of 77.35 was exceeded only in the 1952 Masters (77.58) and in 1956 (78.56) and Johnson was still in the same position, at 4-over 220, as he was in the first two rounds: two shots back, with Stuart Appleby leading at 2-over and Woods and Rose tied for second at 3-over.

But hardly anyone had Johnson on their radar as the final round began. The smart money was that Woods would find a way to distance himself and capture his fifth green jacket.

It was also another cold, but clear day. Johnson, experienced at those conditions from growing up and learning the game in Iowa, was ready.

"I didn't mind [the cold] on Sunday," he said. "I had a turtleneck on, a vest, a shirt ... it was mid-50s and the wind chill was down. I didn't mind that at all."

One-by-one, the players ahead of Johnson when the day began melted away.

Appleby double-bogeyed the first hole, doubled the 12th, and went on to shoot 75.

Woods had the lead but then lost it with bogeys at Nos. 6 and 10.

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Goosen rallied with a 4-under 32 on the front but three-putted for bogey at No. 12 and didn't make another birdie.

Sabbatini eagled No. 8 to get into contention but couldn't sustain the momentum with two birdies and two bogeys on the second nine -- the latter bogey coming at No. 18.

The door was open and Johnson stuck a foot in with birdies at Nos. 2, 3 and 8 to off-set bogeys at Nos. 1 and 5.

He said the birdie at No. 8, on a chip-in, was a turning point.

"That gave me some momentum," he said.

Johnson made the turn one shot behind Goosen and in a tie with Appleby and proceeded to play the second nine in textbook fashion -- including the old Ben Hogan adage of laying up at the par-5 13th and 15th holes when tied or leading.

Johnson grabbed his first piece of the lead when Goosen bogeyed No. 12, then made a 10-footer for birdie at No. 13 to go in front for good, using a sand wedge from 80 yards out on his third shot.

Johnson then made an unexpected birdie at No. 14 -- the only player among the leaders to birdie that hole in the final round -- and added a birdie at the par-3 16th hole on an 8-foot putt.

That gave him a three-shot lead and put him at even-par for the tournament. Johnson then bogeyed the 17th but made his par save at No. 18 to seal the victory. Woods had eagled the 13th hole to elicit one of the few second-nine roars that day but parred out after that.

Johnson and his caddie Damon Green had laid out a careful game plan, and there were few stumbles in carrying it out.

When there were, Johnson's short game and putting saved him.

"Any championship you win, if you execute the game plan to a 'T,' you feel good about that," Johnson said. "But I've done that and won and done that and lost. You never get completely comfortable at Augusta. That's the beauty."

This article is written by Garry Smits from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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