The Open 2015: Johnson turns to scriptures at St Andrews
Devout American takes Claret Jug in play-off after Spieth's dreams of another Grand Slam are dashed
Zach Johnson was crowned Open champion on Monday night after a tense play-off against Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman. The 39-year-old Johnson, whose only previous Major was the 2007 Masters, held his nerve during the four-hole shootout to scoop the Claret Jug and a cheque for £1.15m.
Johnson's victory put paid to Jordan Spieth's dreams of a Grand Slam with the 21-year-old American finishing one shot behind his fellow American after the fourth round, which was delayed by a day after bad weather over the weekend meant the tournament was held over five days for only the second time in history.
Spieth, who along with Rory McIlroy represents the new young breed of golfer, is altogether more glamorous than Johnson, as the later admitted. "I'm not exactly a poster boy am I?" joked the devout Christian. "I'm not the most charismatic, fun-packed individual I guess!"
Johnson then disclosed that his faith had sustained him during the gruelling fourth round as the rain and wind buffeted the Old Course at St Andrews. "I was reading bits of scripture to myself, things like Psalm 24, Verse 7," he told reporters. "I've been reading them all week. I thank God for the talent he has given me and I take it seriously."
Johnson was cheered on by his wife, and her support was subsequently acknowledged by the 2015 Open champion. "I am just a guy from Iowa and to have a green jacket and the claret jug is unbelievable," said Johnson. "But it won't define who I am. It will not be my legacy, my wife and kids are my legacy."
Spieth was one of the first to congratulate Johnson on his win but this year's Masters and US Open champion will be rueing his bogey on the Road Hole 17th that saw him finish on 14 under, one shot behind Johnson, South African Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman of Australia. "I won't beat myself up too bad because I have certainly closed plenty of tournaments out, and this just wasn't one of those," reflected Spieth. "It's hard to do that every single time."
Spieth was one of a number of players who fell away as the pressure increased. The challenges of Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Ireland's Padraig Harrington also wilted. No one felt the strain, however, as much as the overnight joint leader, Paul Dunne. The 22-year-old Irish amateur had led the field at the start of the day but he began the final round with two bogeys and eventually carded a 78, 12 shots more than his stunning round of the previous day.
"It kind of just rattled me a little bit," he said of his disastrous start. "I didn't really know where they came from and I just never settled in after it. I don't think there are many positives to put on a 78 in a final round but I'm sure there's still stuff I can learn from it that'll be positive going forward and help me in the future."
The Open: toothless Tiger joins the 'hack pack' at St Andrews
So much for those pre-tournament predictions that he was getting back to his best. In fact Tiger Woods plumbed new depths at St Andrews in Thursday's Open, carding an opening round of 76. It was his worst ever professional round at the Home of Golf and already Woods' hopes of winning his fourth Open title are already over.
St Andrews on Thursday was "a sad place to be" for all Tiger fans, says the Daily Mail. As Dustin Johnson shot a seven-under par 65 to lead the field by one shot, "the disintegration of a sporting great" continued further down the leaderboard as Woods ended his opening round four over par.
It went wrong from the first hole, despite his confident assertion earlier in the week that he "loved" the challenge of playing the Old Course, when Woods hit his second shot into Swilcan Burn. As his ball splashed into the shallow strip of water just in front of the green, minds travelled back to 2000 when the American steered clear of all 112 bunkers on his way to the title. Five years later he crushed the opposition on the Old Course in winning his second Open title at St Andrews by five shots. It was, we were all assured, only a question of time before the then 29-year-old overhauled Jack Nicklaus's record 18 Major victories.
On Thursday Woods bogeyed four of the first seven holes and carded just one birdie in his entire round. As former US Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger commented on ESPN: "It's hard to watch the greatest player of this generation be a middle of the pack hack."
Woods couldn't even blame his travails on the weather. The skies were as leaden as his golf, but there was no wind whipping off the North Sea, nor bucketing rain. The only tempest was in his head, as his touch deserted him the way it had last month during the US Open when he missed the cut after rounds of 76 and 80.
"I made so many mistakes," reflected Woods, a refrain that become all too familiar in recent months. "I just didn't play well. I know today was very benign. Hopefully the conditions will be tough tomorrow and I can put together a good round and we'll move up the board progressively."
Australian golfer Jason Day, playing in the same group as Woods, finished his round just one shot behind leader Johnson and later spoke up in pitying defence of the man who once struck terror into the hearts of his rivals. "It' s tough seeing your idol struggle," he said. "I grew up watching him. That's why I'm in golf today. It's why I'm a professional, why I chased the dream."
So did the 27-year-old Day, who's never won a Major, offer any advice to the former world number one? "He was struggling a little bit and needed to put his mind somewhere else," Day told reporters. "He used to get back where he needed to be mentally by getting pissed off at himself."
Tiger Woods back on the prowl as he talks up The Open
He's endured the sort of year that would drive most men to drink, yet Tiger Woods intends to drive straight and true when he steps out on to the Old Course at St Andrews tomorrow.
Golf's most famous course has been the scene of two of Woods's three Open victories, and the 39-year-old American believes he can rediscover his long-lost magic touch this week to claim his 15th Major title.
In the absence of Rory McIlroy, who will not defend his crown after rupturing ankle ligaments in a football kickabout in Belfast, Woods has been ushered back into the media spotlight.
But if he were to lift the Claret jug at St Andrews on Sunday afternoon it would represent one of the most extraordinary comebacks in sporting history. Since his last Major in 2008, Wood's descent has been astonishing. The man who was once nigh-on untouchable on the golf course has become a virtual laughing stock, ridiculed for his turbulent private life and lately for his cack-handed golf.
The nadir came in last month's US Open, when Woods shot an 80 and a 76, not only missing the cut but leaving many commentators shaking their heads in despair at the sight of the once-great golfer hacking and heaving his way round the course.
To his credit, Woods responded to the worst 36 holes in his 19-year professional career by carding a 67 in the final round of the Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago. That represented his best score in nearly two years and Woods – who now wallows at a humiliating 241 in the world rankings - believes it also signifies a new beginning.
"I know some of you guys think I'm buried and done, but I'm still right here in front of you," he told reporters at a pre-Open press conference. "I love playing. I love competing, and I love playing these events."
Woods's legions of fans will be encouraged to hear him talk with such enthusiasm of the sport that has treated him so harshly in recent years, but is there any reason to believe he can roll back the years to the era when he bestrode the golfing world like a colossus?
In Woods' eyes he is only now regaining peak fitness after the back surgery he underwent in early 2014. "I feel like my body is finally healed up from the [back] surgery from last year," explained Woods. "They say it takes you about four to six months to get back, but I've heard a lot of guys on tour who have had the surgery and other athletes say it takes over a year to get back... It would have been one thing if I would have gone through the procedure and then had the same golf swing, but I've changed the golf swing too on top of that, and so I had to fight both at the same time."
If Woods is to have any chance of winning this week, he'll have to find a way of beating Justin Spieth, the 21-year-old who has won both the Masters and the US Open this year. Woods, however, thinks that talented though he is, Spieth's relative inexperience will be challenged by the formidable Old Course.
"I think experience counts a lot with the varied wind conditions here," Woods said of St Andrews "That's where experience really comes into play. If you haven't seen the course in various winds, bunkers that you don't even see in the yardage book because you're playing it and you don't see it in that wind, all of a sudden become apparent."
No such problem for Woods, though, who indulged in a spot of mind games with Spieth by declaring how much he relished the challenge of St Andrews. "I just love the creativity. You need to have the right angles. Over the years of learning how to play the golf course under all different type of wind conditions, it changes greatly and... you know, a five-degree wind change here changes the whole golf course completely. I've always found that very fascinating."