Zach Johnson opens year with win at Tournament of Champions

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KAPALUA, Hawaii — Zach Johnson started the new year the same way he ended the last one.

Zach Johnson made three consecutive birdies down the stretch Monday to help secure a win at the Tournament of Champions.  MARCO GARCIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MARCO GARCIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Zach Johnson made three consecutive birdies down the stretch Monday to help secure a win at the Tournament of Champions.

Johnson pulled away with three consecutive birdies on the second nine at Kapalua and closed with 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 consecutive birdie that gave him control.

Spieth, who had a one-shot lead going to the back nine, birdied his last two holes for 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 70. He tied for third place with Kevin Streelman, who had 67.

Jason Dufner was four shots back in fifth after 69.

It was Johnson’s third win in his past 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.

Spieth missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 16th, and the two birdies at the end at least gave him a good start to his new year. He earned $665,000.

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.

Five players had at least a share of the lead at some point in the final round, and mistakes were magnified.

Dufner holed a 60-foot eagle putt on the sixth hole and grabbed a share of the lead with a shot up the hill and into a stiff wind to 4 feet for birdie on the 13th. His mistake was making pars on the short 14th and the par-5 15th, three-putting from long range on the latter.

Masters champion Adam Scott got within one shot of the lead with an eagle on the 15th hole, only for his wedge to hit the flag on the 16th. He had to settle for par, and he closed with a bogey to finish in the tie for sixth. He never was a serious threat to win, though, not with Zach Johnson facing so many easy birdie holes and making it look easy.

LOCAL INTEREST

BRIAN GAY

Louisville, Ga.*

Score 70-76-65-70–281

Finish T13

PATRICK REED

Ex-Augusta State golfer

Score 70-72-67-73–282

Finish T16

SCOTT BROWN

North Augusta native

Score 71-73-68-75–287

Finish T24

* former resident


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