Dustin Johnson’s record-breaking Masters victory shows he is close to the complete golfing package, writes Iain Carter.
Dustin Johnson’s record-breaking Masters victory owed plenty to soft November conditions but he also demonstrated qualities that make him close to the complete golfing package.
Prodigious hitting was not the only reason he romped to his five-stroke victory, becoming the first Augusta winner to reach 20 under par. Distance was an undoubted asset but more was needed to achieve such a convincing result.
All the pre-tournament chat surrounded another big hitter, Bryson DeChambeau, who had been confidently happy to suggest what he might do to the famous Georgia course with his 350-yard drives.
The American brazenly reasoned that, for him, par was 67 and not the 72 written on Augusta National’s scorecards because of his fearsome club speed and distance off the tee.
Hype turned to hubris.
Over the four days of competition, the 27-year-old DeChambeau struggled physically – he spoke of feeling dizzy over the weekend but said his body was fine.
He only just made the cut and was ultimately beaten by two-times Masters champion Bernhard Langer, who set his own record by becoming the oldest player, at the age of 63, to make the cut at Augusta.
They played together on Sunday. The German, who won in 1985 and 1993, is a country mile shorter than DeChambeau in hitting terms. But he took 71 shots to finish three under, while the American’s 73 left him at two under.
But golf does that to you, even on an Augusta course at its most accommodating. Fairways and landing areas were easier to find because of the absence of bounce and run.
Every facet still needed to be on song, though, and for Johnson that has been the case throughout this fan-free Covid era. In six of his last seven tournaments he has finished in the top two, winning three of them.
If DeChambeau is the golfing scientist, Johnson is the machine – one that currently purrs without malfunction (until a Green Jacket is put on his shoulders!) Technique and temperament proved to be in perfect alignment as he landed his second major and first Masters title.
“He has turned himself into a disciplined, dedicated player,” European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington told us during our coverage of Sunday’s final round on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I think most people would have a different image of Dustin Johnson, but he works really hard. He’s improved his weaknesses, he’s got a big team out there, he’s in the gym, he’s got the physios, he’s really dedicated.”
Harrington agreed that the undemonstrative nature of professional sport at the moment has also helped a player renowned for his calm demeanour.
“He hires a house, he stays in his house, he lives like a hermit on tour,” the Irishman added. “Behind closed doors, yes it probably played into his hands.
“He has a very straightforward existence on tour now, he just does his thing and that’s part of why he’s improved. There’s a lot of good things going on behind the scenes and there’s no other way to say it; he’s just matured as a golfer.”
Four times previously 36-year-old Johnson had carried a lead into the final round of a major and failed to convert it into victory, including this year’s US PGA Championship, won by Collin Morikawa at Harding Park.
But there was little sign of Johnson squandering the four-stroke advantage he built over the first 54 holes at Augusta last week. Yes, he was a little wobbly on the opening holes, but his short game limited the damage.
There were bogeys at the fourth and fifth but his superb birdie at the par-three sixth helped wrestle back the initiative. The South Carolina native was then able to show his full repertoire of skills and course management.
Johnson birdied each of the remaining three par-five holes. But the eighth, the longest of them, was the only one where he found the green in two.
At the 13th he sensibly laid up and he also played the percentages at the 15th after his drive finished slightly out of position. Successful pitches and putts ensured he remained relentlessly on track for his record low aggregate.
“He’s given us a short game display,” said former Ryder Cup star Jamie Donaldson, who watched every shot with us on 5 Live.
“At the start of his round it was to stay ahead. Towards the end of his round he laid up on 13 with a slight mud ball and got up and down. It was the same on 15 after going slightly left off the tee.
“He laid up to a perfect position, hit a great pitch in there, great putt. It’s a short game masterclass from Dustin Johnson when all we seem to talk about nowadays is how far they’re hitting it.”
Length was still a significant factor and the winning score did, ironically, average out at DeChambeau’s predicted par of 67.
Johnson’s record score also owed plenty to the unique circumstances of a November Masters.
Thursday’s deluge softened further already spongy surfaces due to the combination of Bermuda and overseeded rye grasses that prevail on that course in the autumn.
The famed sub-air system ensured playability but is not able to turn saturated putting surfaces into rock hard greens at the flick of a switch. Hence approaches landed like darts into a board.
It was largely target golf, but it still demanded excellence and execution.
Johnson wasn’t the only player to take advantage of the relatively benign conditions. The cut mark came at level par and was the lowest in the 84 times the tournament has been held.
And Australian Cameron Smith had the consolation of being the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s at the Masters as he finished in a tie for second with impressive South Korean Sungjae Im, whose 15-under-par total was the lowest by a debutant.
But ultimately the Masters identified the best player in the world, which is why the famous Green Jacket now so deservedly adorns Johnson’s broad shoulders.