After he submitted his order for fish tacos last Sunday night at a popular Mexican restaurant in Maui, Zach
Johnson, dressed in a T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops
and golf cap turned backward, grinned sheepishly at the young girl behind the counter when
other patrons gave away his identity as a PGA
Tour player. Of course, she hadn’t heard of him because
she kept calling him Jack. Nor did she ask for an autograph
from the unimposing Iowan. “Nah, it’s not worth anything,”
she said playfully. Johnson laughed, went and sat down with
his family and ate his dinner. The next day he sank his teeth
into another tour victory by employing his signature brand
of course management.
Seven years ago Johnson shocked the golf establishment
by winning the Masters without going for any of the par 5s in
two at Augusta National GC. Instead, he plotted—and plodded—his way along, playing to his strengths: his wedge game
and putting. Similarly, at the sprawling Plantation Course at
Kapalua Resort, Johnson dealt with the dimensions of the
bomber’s paradise on his terms. “I just picked it apart,” he said.
Indeed, by tacking to yardages that put a wedge or short
iron in his hands, Johnson fired a bogey-free, seven-under
66 on a scheduled Monday finish and beat 2013 PGA Tour
Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth by a stroke at the Hyundai
Tournament of Champions, the first tournament of 2014
but the seventh of the new wraparound season. The victory,
coming just a month after he stunned Tiger Woods in a
playo; at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge—saved
by a holed-out wedge on the 72nd hole—was Johnson’s third
in his last six starts and the 11th o;cial win of his PGA Tour
career. Only Woods has more among current players 40 and
“This is more than I would have thought,” Johnson,
37, said in assessing a record that compares favorably to
Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, the only men who
have more wins since he joined the tour in 2004. “I don’t
have dreams of that caliber.”
What he does possess is an ability to execute a game
plan that he seemingly has learned to apply to any layout.
Johnson birdied four of five holes starting at the 12th to
storm ahead of Spieth, who had broken away from fellow
third-round co-leaders Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson
to claim a one-stroke edge at the turn. All four of Johnson’s
birdies were putts of eight feet or less set up by wedge shots
as he conquered a course on which he had just one top- 10 in
his previous six tries.
“It’s about putting myself in a yardage spot that I know is
going to give me an opportunity,” said Johnson, who with a
19-under 273 total registered his eighth come-from-behind
win and pocketed $1.14 million.
Spieth, 20, lost despite su;ering just two bogeys over 72
holes, wasting little time proving his 2013 campaign was no
fluke. He played with composure, closing with a 69, despite
sleeping on his first 54-hole lead. “I think it’s a great start to
the year,” shrugged the young Texan. “I was in a great place
this week. I felt really comfortable. There were a couple of
shots I need to work on, but, ultimately, it’s a cool experience.”
Finishing two behind were Simpson and Kevin Streelman,
who competed with more than golf on their minds. In Jack-
sonville, Fla., Simpson’s caddie, Paul Tesori, and his wife,
Michelle, were wracked with worry after their newborn son,
Isaiah, developed complications shortly after his Jan. 4 birth.
Ted Scott, who subbed for his close friend Tesori, wrote
Isaiah’s name on his cap, and he and Simpson both fought
back tears Sunday as Simpson surged to a share of the lead
with an inspired 68.
“I don’t know how we got around like we did,” Scott, who
regularly caddies for Bubba Watson, said, his eyes bloodshot.