Among the things we expected to see at some point in Dustin Johnson’s career was him slipping into a green jacket, size 42 long. If ever a player was built to win the Masters Tournament, it was Johnson, a generational talent with the power to handle Augusta National’s length, the touch to handle its greens and the Bob Marley mindset for whatever might come his way: everyt’ing’s gonna be alright, mon.
Among the things we didn’t think we’d see: Johnson breaking down in an interview with CBS’ Amanda Balionis on Sunday, after winning the Masters by five strokes with a tournament-record score of 20-under 268.
Like Fred Couples, the 6-foot-4 Johnson was blessed with sublime skills and cursed by the appearance of not really caring all that much, win or lose. He has been wrongly portrayed as a golfer who was a bit too laissez faire to reach the heights his talent portended. But he revealed Sunday, first on the course and then in the afterglow of victory, just how big the heart is that beats in his chest.
“On the golf course, I’m pretty good at controlling my emotions, because I’m out playing golf,” Johnson said. “But, yeah, I had a tough time there speaking with Amanda. Just because it means so much to me. It means so much to my family, (fiancée) Paulina (Gretzky), the kids. They know it’s something that I’ve always been dreaming about and it’s why I work so hard.
“And, you know, to finally have the dream come true, I think that’s why you see all that emotion.”
Johnson, who grew up in Columbia, S.C., an hour from Augusta, started the day with a four-stroke lead but made a shaky par on the par-5 second hole, which he had eagled in the first and third rounds. Then, after a birdie on the third hole, he bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5.
Cameron Smith of Australia, playing in the threesome directly in front of Johnson, birdied Nos. 2 and 3 and just like that Johnson’s lead was down to one.
But after that, Johnson played the kind of flawless golf befitting the world’s top-ranked player, making birdies on Nos. 6 and 8 and then going off for three in a row starting on No. 13 to pull away. He finished with a 68 and broke by two shots the 72-hole record of 18-under held by Tiger Woods (1997) and Jordan Spieth (2015).
The stats underscored Johnson’s brilliance. He hit 60 of 72 greens in regulation to lead the field, hit 44 of 56 fairways, played the par-5s in 11-under and was sixth in driving distance (306.7). His five-shot margin of victory over Smith and Sungjae Im of Korea was the biggest since Woods won by 12 in ’97, and he became the eighth wire-to-wire winner of the Masters since 1960.
Like almost everything Johnson does, he made it look easy. But this was no walk in the park.
“It was a battle all day, just an internal battle with myself,” he said. “I knew I had to play well if I wanted to win and it never got easier. I thought it would, but it never did, not from the first tee until the last putt. I felt like I was battling all day, in a good way.”
Whatever pressure Johnson felt was not inflicted by the golfers most expected to put up a fight. Jon Rahm of Spain, ranked No. 2 in the world, shot a 71 to finish in a three-way tied for seventh, 10 shots back. Justin Thomas, ranked third, shot a 70 to finish solo fourth, eight back.
Instead it was Smith and the 22-year-old Im who hung tough. Both shot 69s and finished at 273. Smith enjoyed the added consolation prize of shooting in the 60s in all four rounds (67-68-69-69), something that had never been done in the Masters, not even by Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus or Woods.
“You know, I'd take 15-under around here the rest of my career and I might win a couple,” he said.
Johnson, 36, added the Masters green jacket to the U.S. Open trophy he won in 2016. It was his fourth victory of 2020 and the 24th of his career. He also has won six World Golf Championships events.
Last year, Johnson finished runner-up to Woods in the Masters, his fourth consecutive top-10 at Augusta National. He now has 20 top-10s in the major championships along with a handful of heartbreaks.
At Whistling Straits in 2010, he incurred a two-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship for grounding his club in a bunker, which kept him out of a three-man playoff. Earlier that summer, he took a three-shot lead into the final round of the U.S. Open but stumbled to an 82 at Pebble Beach. And in 2015, he three-putted the final hole at Chambers Bay to hand the U.S. Open title to Jordan Spieth.
In fact, before Sunday, Johnson had held the 54-hole lead in four majors and failed to win any of them. He never carried himself like a man with a chip on his shoulder, but it was there.
“I proved that I could get it done Sunday with the lead at a major, especially in tough conditions,” he said. “I proved to myself that I do have it, because I’m sure a lot of y’all think … or even I, there were doubts in my mind, just because I had been there. I’m in this position a lot of times. Like, when am I going to have the lead and finish off the golf tournament or finish off a major?
“For me, it definitely proved that I can do it.”
Johnson will have only five months to enjoy being the reigning Masters champion; the tournament is scheduled to return to its normal slot in the first full week of April, coronavirus willing. In the meantime, he’s going to wear that size 42 jacket every chance he gets.
“I think,” he said, “I look pretty good in green.”