The Open Championship: Zach Johnson Is Last Man Standing After Three-Way Playoff
Much like the U.S. Open in June, players competing at the 2015 Open Championship faced more than a few obstacles over the course of the tournament. While the issues at the U.S. Open centered largely on an untested and unfamiliar course, at the Open it was a more familiar foe players faced at St. Andrews.
That foe, of course, being the less than ideal weather conditions Scotland summers are quite famous for. Torrential rain and gale-forced winds—not to mention high temperatures in the low 50s—halted play on Friday and Saturday, resulting in the event carrying over the weekend into Monday.
Wind delays have become the norm at St. Andrews, with the last three Opens held at the centuries old course delayed at one point or another. The questionable condition of the course this year only compounded the problem. Cut too short, the greens proved unable to hold stationary balls after coming to rest.
Despite various challenges faced by players, the conditions certainly contributed to one of the more memorable tournaments in recent years. A number of amateurs made their mark this year, and the leaderboard was constantly in flux, with a number of high-profile names surging and fading throughout.
No one burned brighter in the first two rounds than Dustin Johnson, who held a one-shot lead going into Saturday at 10 under. But just like his collapse at the U.S. Open in June, Johnson burned out in a big way. He shot 75 in consecutive days, which was just one better than the abysmal two-day performance of Tiger Woods, who didn’t even come close to making the cut.
It was just the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of stunningly bitter disappointments that have come to define the 31-year-old’s career. Once among the game’s most promising young stars, today Johnson is better known as one of the PGA’s sketchiest characters and perhaps the most accomplished choke artist on tour.
Channeling their inner Bobby Jones, the last amateur to win the British Open back in 1930, Irishman Paul Dunne and American Jordan Niebrugge both played better than most of the longtime pros. Dunne was the first amateur in 88 years to lead the tournament going into the final round, but fell to 30th after shooting a soul-crushing 78 on Monday.
Niebrugge held steady throughout, pulling within three shots of the lead early in the final round, but he couldn’t keep pace on the back nine and ultimately finished in a four-way tie at sixth place. With another year left as an amateur as he begins his senior year at Oklahoma State, Niebrugge was pleased with his silver medal and focused on the positives of his performance.
Australia’s Adam Scott, Spain’s Sergio Garcia, England’s Danny Willett and Luke Donald were all among the others jockeying for position down the stretch. Also in the mix was American Jordan Spieth, who was the odds-on favorite to win at St. Andrews after taking the first two majors of the year. His odds were buoyed by the absence of Rory McIlroy, who didn’t compete due to an ankle injury.
Unable to fully overcome his disappointing showing in round two, Spieth missed the playoff by just one shot, finishing tied for second. A birdie on the 16th hole moved him into a four-way tie at first, but the dream of a Grand Slam died right there on the 17th with a subsequent bogey. Spieth narrowly missed on two final putts, either of which would’ve put him in the playoff.
Australia’s Marc Leishman, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, and America’s Zach Johnson were tied at 15 under following four rounds at the 144th Open Championship. Leishman quickly fell out of contention in the three-man playoff, bogeying the first and third holes—he also missed a chance to win outright in regulation.
Eight years removed from his win at the 2007 Masters, the only major of his career, 39-year-old Johnson remained impossibly cool, even after a bogeying that notoriously nasty 17th hole. He needed to finish on the highest of high notes, which is exactly what he did by sinking a 22-foot birdie on the final hole of regulation.
After they both birdied the first hole of the playoff, Oosthuizen was forced to settle for par on the second, leaving the door wide open for Johnson, whose third-straight birdie proved the deciding factor. All three would bogey on three and finish at par on fourth, which left Johnson alone atop the leaderboard.
“I can’t. I’m at a loss for words,” an Johnson said in an emotional TV interview moments after the playoff, tears welling in his eyes.
“I’m grateful, I’m humbled, I’m thankful. I’m honored, this is the birthplace of the game, and that jug means so much in sports, specifically this tournament and golf. It hasn’t set in yet … I felt great, I was patient, I had some scripture going in my head and I thank the Lord, I thank my friends, I thank my family. I’m just in awe right now,” Johnson continued to gush with absolute joy and humility.
“Both Louis and Mark, two great champions in their own right, phenomenal players. They could be standing here right now too,” oozing class and sportsmanship, Johnson concluded by complimenting the outstanding play of the two men who came up just short in their pursuit of the coveted Claret Jug.