Johnson starts new year the way he ended the last
Zach Johnson still looks at himself as David, even though the results are starting to suggest Goliath.
Growing up in Iowa, his passion for sports was fueled by the player or the team that was not big enough, not strong enough, not good enough to win. He had reason to feel that way at Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions, where he started the final round two shots behind on a course that is suited for power players.
It proved to be the perfect recipe for another victory.
Johnson didn't blast his way around the Plantation Course as much as he picked it apart, mostly with his irons, especially with his putter.
He tied for the lead with an approach from 195 yards into 4 feet for birdie on No. 7. He took the outright lead with a wedge into 2 feet on No. 12. And he pulled away from Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Streelman and everyone else with three straight birdies for a 7-under 66.
"Hit some quality shots that certainly helped," he said. "But I think quality putts helped even more."
Johnson started a new year the same way he ended the last one — by winning.
Unlike a month ago in California, when he holed out from the drop zone on the last hole and beat Tiger Woods in a playoff, Johnson didn't doing anything spectacular. He didn't need to. Johnson missed only one fairway. He missed only two greens. He picked his spots and played to his strengths, went bogey-free and matched the best round of the day. That kind of golf wins anywhere. And Johnson seems to be winning a lot lately.
Not only was it his 11th career win on the PGA Tour, it was his third win worldwide in his last six starts. It started with the BMW Championship outside Chicago, which made him eligible for this winners-only tournament on the west end of Maui.
Dating to his rookie season in 2004, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have more PGA Tour victories.
David or Goliath?
"I still have that vision," Johnson said of the underdog role, even though the numbers don't back that up.
Johnson will say his last three wins were against small fields — 70 players in the BMW Championship, 18 players in the World Challenge, 30 players at Kapalua. He also faced strong fields at a playoff event, a holiday event with 18 of the top 30 in the world, and a winners-only gathering Hawaii.
"I've put myself in a place that is a little foreign to me," he said. "Some of the numbers, I'm not exactly comfortable with — top 10 in the world, that kind of thing. But I'm also a realist. I know this game at some point could beat me up again. So I've got to keep doing what I'm doing, try to keep things very simple."
Spieth was playing in the final group for the first time, and he held up beautifully. He made birdie on both par 5s on the front nine to take a one-shot lead, and kept his goal of making three birdies on the back nine. He just got started too late and ran out of holes.
And three pars on the three easiest holes on the back nine — 14, 15 and 16 — didn't help.
Spieth didn't trust his read on two short putts at the 14th and 16th, and he came up just short on the par-5 15th.
"Yes!" he said, when the ball took off his hybrid like a rocket, headed for the front portion of the green. "You've got to be kidding me," he said when he saw the ball retreat down a slope. He didn't connect properly on a delicate pitch, and the ball came back down the slope. Spieth had to scramble for par.
Three shots behind, he closed with two birdies for a 70 to finish one shot behind.
Streelman had a 67 and tied for third with Webb Simpson, who had a 70.
Five players had a share of the lead at one point, which included Dustin Johnson early and Jason Dufner late. Dustin Johnson, tied for the 54-hole lead with Spieth and Simpson, made three bogeys before he recorded a birdie. He chipped poorly and shot 73. Dufner's rally was undone by a three-putt par on the 15th, and then a shot in to the hazard on the 17th that ended his hopes for good.
The last man standing was Zach Johnson, a position with which he is becoming familiar.
He tried to imagine what he would have said if told that going into his 11th season on the PGA Tour, he already would have 12 victories worldwide, a top-10 ranking and golf bags from having played on six national teams.
"It would have been more than I thought," Johnson said, still seeing himself as David.