HARTFORD, Conn. – Travelers Championship officials already knew they would have the 2020 FedExCup champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year returning to TPC River Highlands in Cromwell next June.
But now they’ll also have the 2020 Masters champion after No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson survived a shaky start Sunday at wind-swept Augusta National Golf Club to shoot a 4-under-par 68 for a record 72-hole total of 20-under 268 and a five-stroke victory over Masters rookies Sungjae Im of South Korea (69) and Cameron Smith of Australia (69). It was the largest margin of victory since defending champion Tiger Woods won his first of five Masters titles by a record 12 shots in 1997, and the 20-under tied the all-time major championship scoring record previously shared by Jason Day and Henrik Stenson.
When interviewed by CBS’ Amanda Balionis during a green jacket ceremony after winning the tournament that he always wanted to win most, the normally placid Johnson became an emotional mess, having to pause and wipe away tears several times before being able to speak.
“I was nervous, it was an internal battle with myself all day, but I’m proud of the way I handled myself and finished it off,” Johnson said after erasing some majors demons. “I definitely proved I can get it done on Sunday with the lead in a major, especially in tricky conditions, which is very hard to do. There were doubts in my mind just because I had been there. I’m in this position a lot of times. Like when am I going to have the lead and finish off the golf tournament or finish off a major?
“It’s truly a dream come true, especially having grown up only an hour away (in Irmo, S.C.). It’s really incredible, as you can tell. I’m pretty good at controlling myself on the golf course, but I’ve never had that much trouble gathering myself because it meant so much to me.”
A lot of Johnson’s problem trying to control his emotion was the 400 people surrounding the green included his fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, his younger brother/caddie Austin, coach Claude Harmon III and some other members of his team.
Fittingly in an agonizing 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DJ was the first player in Masters history to reach 20-under and bested the previous tournament-record 270 shot by Woods in 1997 and matched by 2017 Travelers Championship winner Jordan Speith, who got to 19 under before bogeying the final hole in 2015. It was Johnson’s seventh consecutive finish of sixth or better, including three wins and a playoff loss to Jon Rahm in the BMW Championship among three seconds. During that stretch, he shot a staggering 30-under 254 for an astonishing 11-stroke victory in the year’s first FedExCup event, THE NORTHERN TRUST at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass.
The first November Masters was plenty strange and thoroughly thrilling for 36 holes as Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas became the first three top-ranked players to be among the leaders in the history of major championships. But the final two rounds of the year’s final major became a stirring and emotional coronation for the man who had been 0-for-4 in converting 54-hole leads/co-leads in the game’s most significant tournaments, including the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco three months ago.
Johnson, who edged 2014 Travelers Championship winner Kevin Streelman by a stroke on June 28 in Cromwell, had a four-stroke lead entering the final round but made his first two bogeys of the week on the front nine at the third and fourth holes and saw his lead reduced to one when Smith birdied Nos. 2 and 3. But the young Aussie bogeyed the fifth hole and Johnson birdied Nos. 6 and 8 and was on his way to donning a 42 long green jacket while walking alongside his brother, who replaced Newtown native Joe LaCava after he became Woods’ caddie seven years ago.
“It’s unbelievable having my brother on my bag and to share this with him,” said Johnson, who teared up with his brother on the 18th green. “I just love experiencing all these moments with him, and he’s really a big help. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Austin said, “He doesn’t throw clubs or curse at me or do any other of that stuff, and that’s just because he’s a class act. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. The guy cares more than anybody. I think just because we’re southern guys, laid back and talk a little slow, everybody thinks we don’t really care.”
After tapping in a closing par and signing his scorecard, Johnson headed to the Butler Cabin to meet with Masters chairman Fred Ridley, CBS announcer Jim Nantz, 2019 U.S. Amateur winner Andy Ogletree, the low amateur from Georgia Tech who tied for 34th at 286 and played three rounds with Woods, who put the green jacket on his frequent Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teammate. Johnson’s other major title came in the 2016 U.S. Open, when he rallied from four strokes back to win at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, but the walk through the Georgia pines with no spectators was a lot easier for someone who had to sit out two tournaments a month ago after testing positive for the coronavirus.
But that misfortune paled in comparison to Johnson reportedly being suspended for six months by the PGA Tour in August 2014 after he supposedly tested positive for cocaine. Citing a source, Golf.com reported Johnson failed three drug tests – two for cocaine in 2012 and 2014 and one for marijuana in 2009. Under its guidelines, the PGA Tour is not required to announce any disciplinary actions against players who test positive for recreational drugs. The PGA Tour, which began drug testing in July 2008, refuted the report, saying Johnson’s “voluntary leave of absence” was for “personal challenges” and that he hadn’t been suspended.
Johnson’s first major championship heartbreak came in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in California, where he held the 54-hole lead but made a triple-bogey 8 on the second hole on the way to a closing 82. He bounced back in the PGA Championship later that year, but another final-round blunder ruined his chances at a first major. On the 72nd hole, Johnson drove his ball into a sandy area to the right of the 18th fairway, grounded his club in what he didn’t know was a bunker and was assessed a two-stroke penalty after the round, ending a chance at a playoff with three-time Travelers Championship and two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, who won on the first extra hole.
Then in the 2015 U.S. Open, Johnson sustained another Sunday nightmare. He had an eagle putt to win and a two-putt birdie would’ve put him in a playoff with Spieth, but he Johnson ran his eagle chance four feet past the cup and missed the comebacker for another devastating finish. But after cutting drugs out of his life, focusing more on his game and getting help/advice from his father-in-law, NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, to work harder at reaching his potential, Johnson rose to the challenge and won his first major title four years ago.
Now, Johnson, who tied for second in the 2019 Masters and the Vivint Houston Open last week, ended up cruising to a second major win, the 24th overall of his career, while making a record-low four bogeys, one less than Jack Nicklaus in 1965 and Jimmy Demaret in 1940, and becoming the first player to shoot two 65s in the same Masters. Johnson also was the first No. 1 player to win the Masters since Woods in 2002, the only others being Ian Woosnam in 1991 and Fred Couples in 1992, the first No. 1 to win a major since Rory McIlroy in the 2014 PGA Championship and the first No. 1 to win on the PGA Tour since he captured the Tour Championship to clinch the FedExCup title. He bettered Woods’ tournament record of 10 consecutive sub-par scores after having tied Spieth’s 54-hole record of 16-under 200 in 2015 and now has five consecutive Top-10 Masters finishes: T6, T4, T10, T2, first.
But it wasn’t all that surprising Johnson extended his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to start a career to 14, tying Woods for third longest and three behind Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, as he was ranked No. 1 for the third time in the last four years. The blistering drives, strategic approaches and smooth putting that served Johnson so well the first three rounds vanished in the early going Sunday. But unlike the other times that he failed to hold a 54-hole lead in a major, the man who began honing his skills at Weed Hill Drive Range in Columbia, S.C., and recently got a putting lesson from World Golf Hall of Famer and 1995 Greater Hartford Open winner Greg Norman collected himself and thoroughly enjoyed emotional bear hugs with his fiancée and brother on the 18th green.
“It means so much to me … it means so much my family, Paulina, the kids,” Johnson said. “They know it’s something that I’ve always been dreaming about, and it’s why I work so hard. To finally have the dream come true, I think that’s why you see all my emotion.”
Travelers Championship tournament director Nathan Grube was plenty happy for Johnson.
“It’s great to see what DJ has done this year,” Grube said. “Not only winning the Travelers, but Player of the Year, FedEx champ, Masters champ, what an amazing year for him. Having him as our champion is something that I know our fans, sponsors, volunteers … everyone is celebrating this with him. Our champions become part of our ‘family’ and we love to celebrate when our family has this kind of success.”
All these years into a career certain to land him in the Hall of Fame, it took a Masters victory to open eyes to who Dustin Johnson really is.
Tiger Woods had a quite different closing walk and made unwanted history along the way while shooting 76 for 287 and a tie for 38th. Woods, trying to tie Nicklaus for most Masters titles (six), hit three balls into Rae’s Creek and made a septuple-bogey 10 on the 155-yard 12th hole, his highest score on a par-3 in a major championship by four strokes and highest in his 23,789 on the PGA Tour. His previous high was 9 on the third hole in the third round of the 1997 Memorial Tournament. But in championship fashion, Woods birdied five of the last six holes, including the last four, to finish under par.
“I committed to the wrong wind on 12, and that just started the problems,” Woods said. “Then I had a lot more shots and balls into Rae’s Creek, but that’s part of our sport, an individual sport, and it happens to everyone, so you have to fight through it. I had to finish it out, and I’m happy with the way that I did.”
* Long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau was the pre-tournament betting favorite and got more attention than any player after winning the previous major, the U.S. Open. But he had a series of calamities while battling dizziness that caused him to have a COVID-19 test that came back negative on Thursday night. It included two triple bogeys, the first when his drive couldn’t be found in the left rough on the short par-4 third hole in the second round. “It was really, really weird for me, so I have to get healthy and move on,” said DeChambeau, who was trying to become the first player to win consecutive majors since Spieth in 2015 (Masters and U.S. Open) but shot 73-286 to tie for 34th.
* DeChambeau finished one stroke behind the ageless wonder, two-time Masters winner Bernhard Langer, a PGA Tour Champions stalwart who became the oldest player (63) to make the cut. While paired in the final round, DeChambeau often outdrove Langer by at least 75 yards, but the wily German meticulously worked his way around Augusta National to a 71 for 285 and a tie for 29th.
* Cameron Smith was the first player in Masters history to shoot four rounds in the 60s (67-68-69-69), and the 273 that he and Im carded was the lowest total for a non-winner.
The 36-hole cut, which didn’t come until Saturday morning because of a three-hour weather delay early in the first round, was at even-par 144, the lowest in Masters history. … Johnson had two of the 11 bogey-free rounds, with Woods being one of the other nine in a first-round 68. There weren’t any such round on Sunday. … The 495-yard, par-4 fifth hole was the hardest for the week (4.272), while the 580-yard, par-5 second was the easiest each round and played to a 4.467 average. The scoring average each day was 71.413, 71.811, 71.767 and 72.167 for an overall average of 71.752. … After a seven-month wait for the 2020 Masters, the 2021 run for the green jacket is scheduled to begin in only 144 days.
* Augusta National continued to expand its inclusionary policies when it made two extraordinary commitments to Lee Elder, the first black golfer to compete in the Masters. He will join Nicklaus and Gary Player as ceremonial starters in 2021, filling the void left by the death of Palmer in 2016. More importantly, the club established the Lee Elder Scholarship at Paine College, a historically black school in Augusta. There will be two golf scholarships annually, one male and one female despite Paine not having a women’s golf program. “But that will change today with our commitment that Augusta National will provide 100 percent of the funding needed to launch a women’s golf program at Paine College, allowing black men and women the opportunity to pursue their dreams on the golf course, in the classroom and throughout and throughout their lives and careers,” Ridley said.
* Lee Elder, 86, defied physical threats to compete in the 1975 Masters, a spot earned by his first PGA Tour victory in the 1974 Monsanto Open. He missed the cut in his Masters debut but won three more PGA Tour events in the 1970s and became the first black to compete in the Ryder Cup as part of the victorious 1979 United States team. He played in five more Masters in 1977-81, making three cuts, including two Top-20 finishes. In the 1980s, Elder won eight times on what is now the PGA Tour Champions. The announcement was similar to Ridley’s first news conference as chairman in 2018, when he introduced the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The tournament, with the final round at Augusta National, became a big part of Masters week when it debuted last year, and the first winner, Jennifer Kupcho, is now on the LPGA Tour.