Tournament of Champions: Zach Johnson pulls away for victory
KAPALUA, Maui — Zach Johnson started the new year the same way he ended the last one.
Johnson pulled away with three straight birdies on the back nine at Kapalua and closed with a 7-under 66 for a one-shot victory over Jordan Spieth in the Tournament of Champions on Monday.
Johnson didn’t need any heroics, like holing out from a drop zone on the last hole when he beat Tiger Woods in the World Challenge last month in California. This was mainly about chipping and putting, and Johnson is among the best.
He hit a wedge to 8 feet for birdie on the 14th to take the outright lead for the first time. Facing a dangerous shot up a steep slope to a green with a false front, Johnson caught it perfectly on the 15th for an easy birdie. And he hit wedge to 5 feet for a third straight birdie that gave him control.
Spieth, who had a one-shot lead going to the back nine, birdied his last two holes for a 69.
“I just picked it apart,” said Johnson, who finished at 19-under 273. “I didn’t deviate from anything I typically do on a golf course.”
Webb Simpson, tied with Spieth and defending champion Dustin Johnson to start the final round, never caught up and closed with a 70. He tied for third with Kevin Streelman, who had a 67.
Dustin Johnson made three bogeys before making his first birdie. He shot 73 and tied for sixth.
Zach Johnson might finally get some of the credit he deserves as among the elite in golf, even though he doesn’t have the raw power of his peers. This was the 11th win of his career. Since his rookie season in 2004, only Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have won more PGA Tour events.
It also was his third win in his last six starts, dating to the BMW Championship north of Chicago in September that qualified him for the winners-only event in Kapalua.
Spieth was playing in the final group for the first time and looked poised as ever. With birdies on both par 5s on the front nine, he had the outright lead and looked as though he might become the youngest player with two PGA Tour wins since Ralph Guldahl in 1932. The signature shot was from a bunker short of the 14th green. He blasted out to 6 feet above the hole for a chance to match birdies with Zach Johnson, in the group ahead.
Except that he missed it.
And then he had to scramble for par on the 15th when what he thought was a perfect shot rolled down the slope 45 yards away. “Yes!” Spieth said when the ball was in flight. But when he saw it land softly and tumble down the hill, he followed that with, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
It took two chips to reach the green, and only a 10-foot par putt kept him in the game.
Dustin Johnson, trying to become the third back-to-back winner at Kapalua, fell back early and never quite caught up. He opened with a three-putt bogey. It took him three shots to reach the par-3 second, and he three-putted for par on No. 5.
Simpson, who received some encouraging news about the newborn of caddie Paul Tesori before starting his round, also found the wrong gear with consecutive bogeys early in the round and spent the rest of the day trying to catch up. He birdied three of his last five holes, but that wasn’t enough to keep pace with the leader.