AUGUSTA, Ga. — Dustin Johnson stood on the sixth tee box Sunday morning at Augusta National having just carded back-to-back bogeys after making only two bogeys in his first 57 holes of this Masters.
Johnson drew back his 8-iron, cleared whatever was in his head, which he admits is typically nothing, and fired away.
Johnson’s ball landed 7 feet from the hole. He calmly made the putt, and his second birdie of the final round steadied his nerves and extended his lead over Australia’s Cameron Smith to 3 shots.
That nonsense you’ve heard about DJ not caring enough to win a green jacket or being too nonchalant and disinterested to fulfill his enormous potential?
Yeah, he cares.
After Bryson DeChambeau and defending champion Tiger Woods consumed the pre-tournament buzz at the first Masters ever played in November, Johnson once again showed why he’s the best player in the world. On Sunday, he fired a 4-under 68 to win his first green jacket and the second major championship of his career.
Johnson’s 72-hole scoring total of 268 broke the Masters record of 270 set by Woods in 1997 and tied by Jordan Spieth in 2015. He also had the fewest bogeys (four) of anyone in tournament history. His final round marked Johnson’s 11th consecutive round under par at Augusta National, breaking the record Woods set from 2000-02.
Johnson, 36, won the Masters in his 10th attempt after finishing in the top 10 in each of the previous four tournaments, including a tie for second behind Woods last year.
“Growing up as a kid, being only about an hour away from here, hitting chips or putts, it was always to win the Masters,” Johnson said this week. “It was what we dreamed about winning.”
Johnson grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, about 95 miles northeast of Augusta. He hit thousands of golf balls at Weed Hill Driving Range, a one-time soybean farm in nearby Irmo, dreaming of the day he would sink a putt to win the Masters.
“They had lights on the range, and most nights I would shut the lights off when I was leaving,” Johnson said.
That dream became real on Sunday for a player who is arguably the most talented of his era and undoubtedly the most athletic. On Sunday, while standing next to playing partner Abraham Ancer in the final pairing, he looked more like LeBron James posting up a small forward in the NBA finals.
And Johnson didn’t need to drink eight protein shakes per round to get like that.
DeChambeau, the swolled-up betting favorite, arrived here so cocksure about his chances of winning a green jacket that he suggested he was planning to play the famed course as a par 67 — it’s a par 72 on the scorecard — because he was hitting the ball so far.
Johnson arrived after playing only once since September’s U.S. Open. He was forced to withdraw from the CJ Cup in October because he tested positive for the coronavirus. Johnson, who said he had only minor symptoms, spent 11 days self-isolating in a hotel room and admitted the most movement he made was to the shower.
When Johnson was asked earlier this week about DeChambeau’s comments, the man of few bogeys and even fewer words replied, “The par is 72 when you add up the numbers on the holes.”
Unless DJ is playing them.
Johnson took down Brawny (and Boasty) Bryson and the rest of the 60-man field that survived the 36-hole cut not because he knocked the cover off golf balls and sent them towering over loblolly pines, but because he hit them far and straight, something DeChambeau is still trying to master with his violent swings.
After Augusta National received nearly an inch of rain on Thursday, the long-driving contest DeChambeau had envisioned was instead more like dart-throwing at the ultra-soft greens.
And no one was better than DJ on a course that has historically shown that second shots are more important than the first ones. He led the field in greens in regulation and putted exceptionally well.
And DJ still averaged more than 300 yards off the tee and was far more accurate than DeChambeau.
On Saturday, Johnson produced one of the most impressive performances in Masters history. He had a bogey-free round of 7-under 65 to give himself a 4-shot cushion going into Sunday. For the first time in his career, he hit all 14 fairways and hit 16 of 18 greens.
Over the first three rounds, he hit 47 greens in regulation, one shy of the record set by Woods in 2001, when he completed the Tiger Slam.
Johnson, the same player who infamously three-putted from 15 feet on the 72nd hole to lose the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, needed only 27 putts in the first round and 30 in the third.
While DeChambeau pondered earlier this week how much more difficult reading Augusta National’s greens would be without having detailed green-reading books, Johnson came up with a rather ordinary method to improve his putting: he drew a straight line on his ball.
“I started using the line on the ball so I know where I’m aiming, instead of guessing where I’m aiming,” he said. “It’s definitely helped.”
Johnson even spent time this summer working on his putting with three-time Masters runner-up Greg Norman, who knows about the horrors of Augusta National’s greens all too well.
Of course, Johnson had his own demons to conquer Sunday. It was the fifth time he had held a 54-hole lead in a major championship; he came up empty the first four times.
There was the final-round 82 at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach; a 2-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker that he thought was a waste area on the 72nd hole at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits; and the aforementioned three-putt from 15 feet at Chambers Bay.
More recently, Brooks Koepka chased him down at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock and Collin Morikawa caught him and passed him at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in August.
Johnson’s inability to close out majors even left Koepka taking jabs at his former close friend. After the third round at the PGA Championship three months ago, Koepka said, “I like my chances. When I’ve been in this position before, I’ve capitalized. I don’t know, [DJ’s] only won one.”
Johnson shrugged off the criticism like he has throughout his career.
Yet, it’s hard to imagine that he ever believed winning his second major title — and first Masters win — would be this difficult.
After the extraordinarily efficient walk around Augusta National in the third round, things were a little more hairy Sunday. He hit his opening tee shot in the bunker on the first hole and saved par. On the second hole, he flopped his third shot into the sand and again saved par.
After a birdie on the par-3 third, he had the back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5, which reduced his lead over Sungjae Im to only 1 stroke.
Instead of panicking, DJ reached deep inside and remained calm. Having leather-thick scar tissue allows you to do that. He followed the birdie on No. 6 with another one on the par-5 eighth. His lead over Smith was back to 2 shots and everyone else by 4 or more.
“He makes the game so simple or makes it look so simple at times for sure,” Rory McIlroy said. “It’s something to admire all the time. I think he’s got one of the best attitudes toward the game of golf in the history of the game.”
And now, finally, after so many near-misses, Dustin Johnson has one of the best résumés in golf history, too.