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Zach Johnson's win for the "normal guy"

American Zach Johnson emerged as one of the most unlikely Masters champions after a week at Augusta National that began with a whimper and ended with a bang.

Although tournament favorite Tiger Woods and twice U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen held the outright lead during Sunday's topsy-turvy final round, only Johnson was able to hold firm over the closing stretch.

Woods, bidding for his third consecutive major title, was well short of his best.

After a day of missed opportunities, head shaking and surprisingly poor shot execution, he had to settle for a share of second place with South Africans Goosen and Rory Sabbatini.

For the first time in his astonishing career, the American world number one failed to win a major after starting the final round in the lead grouping.

Already perhaps the greatest player in history, he also failed in his attempt to come from behind to claim one of golf's most prestigious crowns.

He is 12-for-12 in majors when holding at least a share of the lead after 54 holes.

A four-times champion at Augusta National where the ultra-long layout and lightning-fast greens seem tailor-made for his game, Woods simply failed to deliver on Masters Sunday.

The unheralded Johnson, who was on the minor Nationwide Tour four years ago, served up the decisive Masters moment with three birdies in four holes from the 13th to take control.

He responded to a spectacular Woods eagle at the par-five 13th by picking up his sixth shot of the day at the par-three 16th, where he rammed in an eight-footer.

"If I make this putt, I'm going to be tough to beat," he recalled later of his preparation for the putt on the 16th green.

"We had a great read on it and fortunately I executed pretty well.

"I just tried to maintain my focus, maintain my game plan, and fortunately it came out that way," the 31-year-old said of his strategy in the final round.

Johnson, whose only previous victory on the PGA Tour came at the 2004 BellSouth Classic, held on to triumph in the one major that usually delivers champions of stature.

In recent years, the British Open has produced unlikely winners in Ben Curtis (2003) and Todd Hamilton (2004) while the PGA Championship has thrown up Rich Beem (2002) and Shaun Micheel (2003).

The Masters, in contrast, has rolled out a veritable production line of high-quality victors, ranging from Woods (four green jackets) and Phil Mickelson (two) to Vijay Singh and Jose Maria Olazabal, with one apiece.

Iowa native Johnson became the most unlikely champion at Augusta since fellow American Larry Mize in 1987 and, before that, Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

"I'm Zach Johnson and I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa," the 2007 Masters champion said after the coveted green jacket was slipped over his shoulders by out-going champion Mickelson.

"That's about it. I'm a normal guy."

Normal or not, Johnson's thrilling birdie run on Sunday's back nine restored a sense of normalcy to a tournament that had been strangely silent over the first three rounds.

Dry conditions in the build-up to the Masters, coupled with plunging temperatures and gusting winds from day one, conspired to produce a relative drought of birdies and eagles.

Augusta National usually throws up a cacophony of roars as one player after another electrifies the fans with brilliant shot-making.

Last week, however, featured the first Masters since 1999 where conditions were treacherously fast and firm and tough pin positions on Saturday resulted in only one sub-par round, a 70 by Goosen.

"Imagine you are trying to land a golf ball on your driveway, but your driveway has mounds on them and then they stock pins near the mounds," American Beem said of the greens. "Sometimes I guess you've got to giggle about it all."

Overnight watering of the greens, and more generous pin positions on the par-five 13th and 15th, finally gave fans the traditional Masters Sunday of double-breaking putts dropping into the cup and exhilarating shot execution.

The 71st Masters, which began all too quietly, ultimately ended with a bang .... and a surprise Johnson victory.

 

 




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