Despite a valiant attempt from European Tour Members Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose, it was American Zach Johnson who took possession of the Green Jacket at the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
On a rollercoaster final day for the leading dozen players, it was the 31 year old from Iowa, playing in only his third Masters, who came from behind and emerged victorious to take his first Major Championship, carding a final round 69 for a one over par aggregate of 289. It was the first time since Nick Faldo triumphed in 1990 that the champion had not featured in the final grouping.
Johnson, who even survived the wobble of a bogey at the 17th hole, eventually won by two shots from Goosen, who had stormed into the lead by the turn before stalling, fellow South African Rory Sabbatini and Tiger Woods, who all ended on three over par 291. Rose finished tied fifth on 292 while Harrington tied seventh on 293.
Woods, the World Number One had been hopeful of winning his fifth Masters title and also his 13th Major Championship but early errors and his inability to find a birdie over the closing holes put paid to that. The 31 year old American still sits six Major Championships behind the all time record holder Jack Nicklaus, who has 18.
It was a measure of how hard the fast running greens and windy conditions had made the 71st Masters Tournament, that Johnson’s winning total equalled the highest in Masters history, 289 also having been scored by champions Sam Snead in 1954 and Jack Burke Jnr in 1954.
After his bogey at the 17th, a good chip at the last salvaged par for Johnson and ensured the man who made his Ryder Cup debut at The K Club last September held off his challengers to emerge victorious.
Close to tears at the closing ceremony, the deeply religious Iowan said: "It is amazing. It is amazing what God can do. I believe in myself but every now and then you miss a putt and you can get down on yourself but I've had a lot of support.
"I tried to be non-emotional out there - that was one of my goals, but it was hard. I just tried to stay in the present and go through my processes. I knew I could win on the Major scene. I felt everything was ready and I prepared very hard."
Second placed Goosen has now had two seconds and two thirds in the Masters and this second place was achieved after he survived the cut right on the limit of eight over par before battling back into contention with the only sub par round of 70 in Saturday’s brutal conditions.
The South African started in sensational fashion in the final round and birdies at the second and third and seventh and eighth holes propelled him into the lead. But his challenge stalled after a bogey at the short 12th and six par figures to finish with a 69 meant he could not challenge Johnson at the head of affairs.
“I played very solid on the front nine and on the back nine I played nicely too but I just couldn’t make a putt,” said Goosen. “Obviously I’m disappointed not to win but I am pleased with the way that I played and the fact I gave myself a chance again.
“Zach has been a good player for a long time and it is partly thanks to Zach that I am sitting here (because his two under par halfway total allowed Goosen to make the cut on the ten shot rule at eight over). So in a way I’m happy that I’m here but I’m also sad that I didn’t win.”
Rose finished tied with American Jerry Kelly in fifth place on four over par 292 after his closing 73, a round which showed his tremendous resilience after a horrendous start which saw him four over par after the first four holes.
But the Englishman knuckled down and covered the nine hole stretch from the eighth to the 16th in sensational figures of five under par to put him within touching distance of Johnson.
But a double bogey six at the 17th after an errant drive struck the trees and propelled his ball up the adjacent 15th finished his chances but the three time winner on The European Tour International Schedule, who finished fourth in the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale as an amateur, was rightly proud of his performance nevertheless.
“I felt my resilience was impressive, every time I made a bogey or a double bogey I bounced back. I kept my head up, I kept grinding and I kept believing in myself,” he said.
“I said to myself let’s try and make this the best comeback in Masters history – well maybe Jack (Nicklaus) had that – but it would have still been pretty good to come back from seven over. But Zach played well and posted a good score and I was happy the way I ground it out today.”
Harrington too was proud of himself and in particular the way he thrust himself right back into the heat of battle through Amen Corner with a birdie two at the treacherously difficult short 12th and an eagle three at the 13th.
But hopes of an Irish success faltered at the 15th where he found the water on the way to a bogey six and when he followed that a bogey four at the 16th, like Rose, he knew his chance was over although he elicited another huge roar from the galleries with a birdie three at the 17th for a closing 73 to share seventh place with Australian Stuart Appleby.
“I will walk away from this tournament knowing I have a game capable of winning the Masters so that is a positive note for me,” he said. “It felt good, it felt great all day to be honest. I got to the 12th and I looked at the scoreboard and knew that I had a chance so I just went after every pin out there on the back nine.
“The only pity was hitting such a great shot into the 15th but it didn’t work out but that is Augusta. For the winner it will work out, for the losers they will be left to rue things like that.”