Upstart Johnson Grabs Masters Victory

Zach Johnson, a golfer who wasn't even the best player on his own high-school team, is the 2007 Masters champion. He ignored tough playing conditions and a late eagle by Tiger Woods to beat the field by two shots.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's not often that the world's best golfers show up for the Masters and not one single player finishes under par. When it happened over the weekend, one sound became the signature of the event: The sound of shot after shot after shot that just missed.

Unidentified Man #1: Go in.

(Soundbite of group screaming)

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, dear. Really unlucky.

(Soundbite of group moaning)

Unidentified Man #2: He thought he had it.

Unidentified Man #1: To come back, it's a great effort. Oh, (Unintelligible) fabulous try but…

(Soundbite of clapping)

Unidentified Man #2: Nine times out of 10 that would roll toward the hole. How much did the complexion of this tournament change?

INSKEEP: That's just a few of the sounds of disappointment as broadcast by CBS. Some of that moaning was for Tiger Woods, who lost the lead. Zach Johnson, a 31-year-old from Iowa, took the lead and held on. Commentator John Feinstein was watching. And John, who is Zach Johnson?

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Zach Johnson is one of those players who has labored in virtual anonymity on the PGA Tour for the last four years. He won as a rookie very early in 2004 and had not won a golf tournament since then. He played steadily, he made the Ryder Cup team last year. But before this tournament started last week, he was ranked 56th in the world and his name was not exactly on the lips of people as somebody to watch as somebody who would, as you mentioned, run down Tiger Woods and beat him.

But now he's a Masters champion because he played a brilliant round of golf yesterday, shooting 69 on a day when only three players in the field broke 70 on a very, very tough golf course.

INSKEEP: I don't want to overwhelm people with numbers here. But if you don't play golf all the time, you don't follow it all the time. You play four days of golf. On this particular course, if you hit the ball 288 times, it's even-par. Normally, it need to be well below that to be in contention for this tournament.

FEINSTEIN: Right.

INSKEEP: But Johnson wins with a score of one over par, 289. Why was it so high?

FEINSTEIN: First of all, the weather. It was very windy on the weekend. Saturday was as a cold day as I've ever felt on a golf course with the winds at 30 to 40 miles an hour. The golf course was very dry all week. There was no rain at all, which means that when the balls hit on the green they didn't stop anywhere near the flagsticks.

And because they've lengthened this course, as you and I discussed last week, by 550 yards over the last several years. You combine all of that, and as you said, that matched the highest winning score in the 71-year history of this tournament.

INSKEEP: And why didn't that long course play to Tiger Woods's advantage?

FEINSTEIN: He just couldn't control the ball. It was remarkable that he was as close as he was. He was hitting balls left, he was hitting balls right. Only because of his unbelievable ability to recover when he got into trouble was he even in contention in this tournament?

You kept waiting for him to get hot and pull away from the field. He was one shot off the lead Saturday night, and everybody said, okay, he's right where he wants to be. But he just couldn't get it going on Sunday, and Zach Johnson did.

INSKEEP: So how does Zach Johnson's life change now?

FEINSTEIN: He is now a very wealthy, very famous young man. He will be introduced the rest of his life as a Masters champion. And in golf, there is no better title than that, and he is now a very important person in the world of golf as opposed to, as I said, one of those guys laboring in anonymity.

INSKEEP: And he knows he can play from now on.

FEINSTEIN: He can play anywhere he wants forever as a Masters champion. He will always be welcomed at any golf tournament in the world because he's got that green jacket.

INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: The comments of John Feinstein. His new book "Tales from Cue School: The Fifth Major" will be out later this month. It's about people trying to qualify for the PGA Tour. And let's leave you with a few more sounds from CBS at one of the highest scoring Masters in history.

Unidentified Man #2: This was earlier at 16.

Unidentified Man #1: And this is Retief Goosen.

(Soundbite of group moaning)

Unidentified Man #1: Three over. Sabatini tapped in. Goosen with a six-iron.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, and he got a bit unlucky. Stevens(ph) (Unintelligible) communication. Look at them.

Unidentified Man #2: And he just knew this was it, this was the moment. I either have to make a move or I am toast.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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