Dustin Johnson celebrates on the 18th green
After a par save at the awkward 11th, he subtly pumped the air with his fist – and perhaps then, a man so aggressively opposed to outward displays of emotion, knew nothing could stop him. The final obstacle, the par-3 12th, where Tiger Woods seized the lead last year and crumbled so astonishingly earlier today, was negotiated with sheer nonchalance.
A four-shot lead re-established, Johnson then recaptured the exquisite form that had propelled him to such a firm lead in this tournament. With his driver unshackled and screeching in miniature explosions, the 36-year-old picked apart fairways and putted with the subtlety that belies his powerful approach. A hat-trick of birdies at 13, 14 and 15 brought another fist pump and the loping swagger back to his shoulders. The procession had now well and truly begun, but even then, Johnson would not afford himself a smile.
And so, a Masters tournament that had begun under such strangely unique circumstances, with Thursday’s rain and autumn conditions leaving the course sodden and substantially vulnerable, ended in rather more predictable fashion. And perhaps the only true surprise came in the lack of recognisable challengers. Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm, who shared the lead with Johnson heading into the weekend, fell victim to the National’s firmer greens and greedier rough on Saturday. Rory McIlroy, who produced a fine 69 that briefly had him flicker into contention, was always struggling to fan the embers after another wretched first round.
Special mention should be paid to Smith, though. He finished with a 69, and although that left him five shots back of Johnson, the 27-year-old becomes the first person in history to finish with four rounds in the sixties. This was his second top-five in four appearances at Augusta, and his threat will not be overlooked in years to come.
Dustin Johnson celebrates with his brother, Austin, who is also his caddie
For a wearisome Woods, who was already well out of contention coming into the final day, his defence will instead be remembered for a harrowing episode at the 12th hole. The deceiving par-3 was his gateway to victory 18 months ago when Francesco Molinari’s ball dribbled into Rae’s Creek. This time, it brought Woods thudding to the bed of the leaderboard, finding the water twice with his approach and then inexplicably again from the back bunker. A 10 was the five-time winner’s highest single score on any hole at Augusta, and a jolting reminder that, no matter how great, its virtue is always entwined with peril. Five birdies in the closing six holes, though, epitomised why he is such a familiar champion at Augusta.
Without fans to roar around the 18th green, members, friends and rivals alike filled the void to congratulate Johnson. Born little over an hour away in South Carolina, he is a popular winner in these parts, and at last the happiness chipped away at the granite competitor, the emotions flooding in gently as he admitted to welling up on the most famous walk of his career. His final score of 268 was the all-time scoring record, surpassing Woods’ epochal victory in 1997, the man who’d place the Green Jacket on Johnson’s shoulders in Butler’s Cabin shortly afterwards.
He had to wait far longer than expected, and while it is tempting to paint this as a new dawn, really it is just a result of natural, battle-hardened progression. For so long, his major haul was derided as paltry. Perhaps, for a player of his prowess, even now it still is. But while he has never been one to dwell on the past, before his juggernaut continues into next year, time will stand still at Augusta – there has never been a better time to revel in the present.
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