Apr 9 2007
"Normal" guy wins Masters |
It takes ‘normal guy’ to slay Tiger
But Midwestern guy from Iowa is now Masters champion
By Dan O'Neill
Updated: 2 minutes ago
In the final analysis, this Masters that made no sense makes perfect sense. That is, Zach Johnson makes perfect sense.
"I'm just a Midwest guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa," Johnson. "Just a normal guy. That's what it's all about."
Of course, he's a Midwest guy from Iowa. Who else could go toe-to-toe with the Stanford man from California. Who else could outduel the best player on the planet on turf he practically owns? Who else could beat Tiger Woods to Butler Cabin?
After all, we long ago established Woods is invincible. "Tiger has an amazing record in majors," said Vaughn Taylor, who played alongside the Midwest guy from Iowa on Sunday. "If (Tiger) isn't Superman, who is he? Superman's brother, maybe."
Of course, he is. He is the baddest of the bad, the winner of 12 major championships and 56 PGA Tour events at age 31. He is the guy who gets the lead in a tournament and devours it. He is the intimidating force that leaves challenger after challenger cowering in his wake, the guy with four green jackets hanging in his closet.
So, it is only natural in this highly unnatural Masters that a Midwest guy from Iowa deliver the Kryptonite. The 31-year old Johnson is everything Woods is not. Woods has been a star since he was 3 years old, a legendary figure in waiting, a finely tuned winning machine.
Johnson has earned his way to the PGA Tour and this major championship moment the old-fashioned way.
Woods is from the golf establishment, Stanford. Johnson played golf at Drake. He beat the bushes, played on the NGA Hooters Tour, played on the Nationwide Tour. He lived the Roy McAvoy experience, lived out of the trunk of his car, lived to fight another day.
"I thought those were the best days of my life, right there," Johnson said. "Chicken wings and everything. That's how I got better. Those mini-tours, a lot of good players have come through the ranks there. I feel very fortunate to have played in those tours."
He earned his a promotion by topping the Nationwide money list in 2003, won the 2004 BellSouth Classic and played well enough to earn a spot on the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team. He and his wife, Kim, recently had their first child and this week, in a Masters played like a nasty U.S. Open, a Masters that matched the hardest Masters on record, who better to prevail than the simple Midwest guy from Iowa.
There's something in the water there in Iowa, must be. After all, it was a Midwest guy from Iowa, Jack Fleck, who beat Ben Hogan in a playoff at the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. After all, Johnson went to the same high school as another unlikely sports hero, Kurt Warner, who went from grocery store stock boy to Super Bowl champion quarterback faster than you can say, "Midwest guy from Iowa."
This week at chilly Augusta National might have had you scratching your head. But make no mistake, it makes all the sense in the world that when the pollen settled on Sunday, a Midwest guy from Iowa was left standing.
"I think emotionally, Zach was a lot sharper than everyone else," said third-round leader Stuart Appleby, who fell on his sword with a double bogey on at the first hole on Sunday. "Zach knew he had a sharper game today and he knuckled down and got it done."
"I was sticking to my game plan," Johnson said. "I didn't go for one par-5 in two, and I managed to make a lot of birdies on them. I knew if I just stayed in the present, kept rolling the ball ... it was my day I guess, pretty lucky."
Johnson played the par-5s in a "lucky" 11-under par during the week. His friends from the mini-tours call him back-to-back Zach, and on Sunday at the Masters, he made back-to-back birdies at Nos. 2 and 3, and back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 to take command.
When Woods had a notion, when he made Amen Corner erupt with an eagle at No. 13, Johnson paid little attention. He didn't look at scoreboards until he reached No. 17. He never considered the possibilities, never considered the pratfalls. He was just a Midwest guy from Iowa, playing in the Masters.
"You know, I guess ignorance is bliss sometimes," Johnson said. "Comparing me to Tiger, obviously I've struggled. However, I feel like I've been pretty secure out here on the PGA Tour and to say that's a struggle, it's maybe a little misleading I think.
"More importantly, comparing myself to arguably the most phenomenal athlete, especially in golf, that the world has ever seen is, you know, I don't know, maybe a little misleading."
Cue the Andy Griffith Show theme: "At the same time, you know, I felt like I've been blessed and I'm good enough to, you know, take home a green jacket," he added. "At least, that's what I was trying to tell myself the entire time and fortunately it went in my favor."
When it was over and Johnson had his green jacket, he couldn't have been more charitable in his praise for family, friends, supporters and most importantly on Easter Sunday, the Lord. "I just feel very, very lucky and blessed," Johnson said. "
Of course, he does. He's a Midwest guy from Iowa and for this especially-hard Masters he was the perfectly soft solution.
"Iowa is home," Johnson said. "That's where I started and ... whew ... I told myself I wouldn't get emotional ... You know, my mom is there now, so I just ... thank everybody back in Cedar Rapids.
Only problem is, Zach Johnson isn't just a Midwest guy from Iowa anymore. From this day forward, he is the 2007 Masters champion.