Los Angeles Times
Old Course grind
Johnson toughs out victory after Spieth misses playoff, ending Slam bid
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland— The grinder beat the kid. Now, Zach Johnson, by winning the extended British Open on Monday, has as many major trophies as Jordan Spieth.
As a matter of fact, Johnson has the two most coveted prizes in the sport, achieved at the two most coveted places. He won a Masters green jacket in 2007 at Augusta National and the Claret Jug on Monday at the St. Andrews Old Course.
He will wake up soon and realize that’s a career, a legendary one. It will come to him slowly because the 39- year- old from Iowa City is the tour’s self- effacement leader.
When asked afterward about winning even more majors, Johnson smiled and said, “I never even thought I’d win one.”
Right down to the final hole, the final minutes, the final gasps, this was a golf tournament all about Spieth, the 21- year- old Texan who was trying to become the first since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the first three majors of the year.
Right to his last putt that drifted inches from the cup and kept him out of the threeman playoff that Johnson won, Spieth was in it, digging, trying, calculating.
Which says it all.
That Spieth was even close at the end, in a sport that tears your heart out with wind, rain, bad bounces, bad swings and little lumps on little hills that change everything, was beyond remarkable. He looked the pressure in the eye and took it on.
Ahuge part of the golf world pulled for him to match Hogan, to go on to Whistling Straits and the PGA Championship next month and becomea Grand Slam winner. Spieth didn’t do it, but he didn’t flop, either. He succumbed to a field of other great players, playing better.
“Therewas some fantastic golf . . .” Spieth said.
Johnson won in a playoff — at the British Open, they use a four- hole aggregate score, playing Nos. 1, 2,17 and18. He finished it one under par, a shot ahead of Louis Oosthuizen and three ahead of Marc Leishman.
When the smoke cleared, one of the first to venture out and congratulate Johnson was Spieth.
Johnson was emotional when asked about that.
“He said congrats, that hewas proud of me,” Johnson said. “He’s a really good friend of mine. Granted, he’s 18 years younger, which is perspective. . . . Alot of you guys knowhim. He’s a better person than he is a golfer.”
Until Monday, Johnson was best known not just for winning the Masters, but for doing it by laying up on all the par fives. Heseldom hits it long, but he seldom hits it crooked.
He keeps it going, which is what he did Monday, taking the lead in the clubhouse with a birdie on No. 18, posting a score15 under par. Then Johnson waited to see who, if anyone, would join him in the playoff.
Leishman did first and South Africa’s Oosthuizen did later. But Spieth, playing in front of Oosthuizen, had a chance to become No. 4 in the playoff group if he made a birdie on No. 18.
Inexplicably, Spieth yanked his drive to the wide- open, most- photographed fairway in golf, sending it way left, leaving him an approach shot from a distance that didn’t suit him.
“Who thought a drive on No. 18was going to be what really hurt me at the end?” he said. “It’s kind of hard not to hit a good shot there.”
Spieth had about105 yards to the pin. His shot hit on the green and rolled back down into the bumps of the Valley of Sin. Still, he is such a good putter that the 35 feet he had left was not impossible, even though the ball had to comeup and over a ridge.
“The putt on 18 was a little left the wholeway,” Spieth said, adding that he knew better and just didn’t hit it well.
Oosthuizen, playing last, made the walk downthe fabled 18th in a different mood than he had on the last day of his previous British Open here. Thatwas in 2010, when hewon in a runaway.
This time, he had to make a birdie to stay alive.
Hedid exactly that, then shared the lead with Johnson after the first hole of the playoff, when they both made birdie putts. Leishman, a 31-year- old Australian who tied for fifth in the British Open at Hoylake last year, immediately fell out of the playoff picture with a bogey on No. 1. Johnson also birdied the next hole, No. 2, and hung on to win, when Oosthuizen’s tying birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole, No. 18, missed.
In regulation, Spieth made a 35- foot birdie putt on No. 16 to tie for the lead. But the Road Hole, No. 17, which he played in three over par for the tournament, bit him again with a bogey.
“Seventeen was brutally challenging,” he said.
That necessitated the birdie try at18, the one that settled two inches fromthe cup.
Johnson was crowned “The Champion Golfer of the Year,” as all British Open winners are. Then he took the Claret Jug the length of the 18th fairway, clutching it in one hand and high- fiving hundreds of admiring fans with the other.
When he met the press, hewas what he always is: Zach Johnson, “just a guy from Iowa who has been given some talent.”
Hewas asked what he would have thought15 years ago if asked about a green jacket and a Claret Jug: “I would have said, ‘ Whose am I trying on and whose am I touching?’ ”
Will he be a poster boy for this tournament?
“That’s one phrase I’ve never heard coined with me,” he said.
In the end, the game’s current poster boy, Spieth, didn’t win. But he didn’t fail. The “champion golfer of the year” is Zach Johnson. The future of golf is Jordan Spieth.
The first to tell you that would be the champion golfer of the year.