The highest compliment due to Dustin Johnson is that he did not allow the final round of the 84th Masters to become particularly interesting. The cool and calm Johnson has now collected a Green Jacket.
His career and status enter fresh territory, with the 36-year-old becoming a multiple major champion only 75 miles from where he grew up in South Carolina. Johnson has no reason to care less about a final day painfully lacking in drama. His approach was that of a cold-blooded champion.
Johnson won by five shots, at 20 under par, and it was every bit as comfortable as the figures suggest. That aggregate is a Masters scoring record, beating the previous best of minus 18. There is a legitimate debate to be had regarding whether Johnson’s figures require an asterisk, given the forgiving nature of Augusta National in November, but an increase in wind during the closing stretch of his victory march meant nothing could be straightforward. Johnson played like the No 1 player in the world, his position heading into this major.
“The Masters to me is the biggest tournament and the one I wanted to win the most,” Johnson said. “I was nervous all day. I’m very proud of the way I handled myself and finished off the golf tournament. This is a dream come true.”
Johnson, normally so emotionless, was reduced to tears during his post-round media duties.
Tiger Woods, who added to this sense of achievement by placing the Green Jacket on Johnson’s back, led the praise. “He’s an amazing athlete,” said Woods. “He’s one of the first guys to ever bring athleticism to our sport. DJ has just an amazing ability to stay calm in tough moments.”
Cameron Smith came within one roll of holing a chip shot at the 18th that would have earned him second place outright. Instead, the Australian shared that position with Im Sung-jae. Im’s display was quite astonishing at the age of 22 and on his Masters debut. The South Korean had missed the cut in four of his six major appearances pre-Augusta. Justin Thomas claimed fourth at 12 under.
Johnson’s only wobbles arrived in the early stages of the fourth round. Missed par putts at the 4th and 5th cut his lead – four at the start of the day – to one. Yet the relative inexperience of those in close pursuit always looked to be a key factor. Birdies at the 6th and 8th, plus the safe navigation of the treacherous start to the back nine, meant Johnson had a three-stroke advantage by the time he blasted his drive from the 13th tee.
When Johnson made birdie at the 14th, he became only the second player in history to reach 19 under par at any stage of the Masters. More importantly to the champion-elect, Smith and Im were now five shots adrift. The fat lady was clearing her throat. On the 15th green, Johnson swaggered to 20 under. Whisper it, but this was all somewhat boring.
Johnson has always had the physicality and technique to be branded one of the greatest players of his generation. Until US Open glory in 2016, these attributes were undermined by the regular snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory. Johnson is no longer a nearly man; the smart money would be on him adding more major wins to his CV.
Rory McIlroy must wish 144 days do not have to pass until the next Masters. The Northern Irishman responded quite brilliantly after an opening round of 75, with his fourth-round 69 earning him a share of fifth with Dylan Frittelli of South Africa.
McIlroy has proved he has what it takes to piece together low scores at Augusta, with the completion of a career grand slam a perfectly attainable target for April. He had the chance to make Johnson sweat a little on Sunday before a wayward approach to the 10th triggered a bogey and left the four-times major winner playing for second place.
“I felt relaxed this week,” McIlroy said. “I’ve got to just keep doing the same things. I only had two bogeys in the last 54 holes, there was a lot of great golf in there. That relaxed approach, not over-thinking anything, feels like the key for me.”
Brooks Koepka, who played alongside McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood in the fourth round, posted a 70 for a 10-under total. “The course has suited Dustin down to the ground,” said Koepka. “I’m not surprised by him winning.” Damned, faint praise etc.
Jon Rahm and CT Pan matched Koepka’s score. Fleetwood closed with a 74 to slip back to six under. Low amateur honours went to Andy Ogletree, who closed at two under par. Ogletree’s highest round of the week was 73. “I hope to be back here a lot in the future,” said the 22-year-old.
Johnson aside, perhaps the performance of the week belonged to Bernhard Langer. At 63, the German signed off with a 71 for a three-under total and share of 29th. The second of Langer’s Masters wins arrived in 1993. Twenty-seven years on, he outscored Bryson DeChambeau – remember him? – by one. So much for the appliance of science.