|Zach Johnson holds the winning trophy on Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)|
KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) ― Zach Johnson started the new year the same way he ended the last one ― holding a trophy.
Johnson pulled away with three straight birdies on the back nine at Kapalua and closed with a 7-under 66 for a one-shot victory over Jordan Spieth in the Tournament of Champions on Monday.
Johnson didn’t need any heroics, like holing out from a drop zone on the last hole when he beat Tiger Woods in the World Challenge last month in California. This victory was mainly about chipping and putting, and Johnson is among the best.
He hit a wedge to 8 feet for birdie on the 14th hole to take the outright lead for the first time. Facing a dangerous shot up a steep slope to a green with a false front on the next hole, Johnson caught it perfectly for an easy birdie. He then hit a wedge to 5 feet on the 16th for a third straight birdie that gave him control.
Spieth, who had a one-shot lead going to the back nine, birdied his last two holes for a 69.
“I just picked it apart,” said Johnson, who finished at 19-under 273. “I didn’t deviate from anything I typically do on a golf course.”
Webb Simpson, tied with Spieth and defending champion Dustin Johnson to start the final round, never caught up and closed with a 70. He tied for third with Kevin Streelman, who had a 67.
Jason Dufner was four strokes back in fifth after a 69. Dustin Johnson (73) and Australian Adam Scott (69) were another stroke back in a four-way tie for sixth.
Zach Johnson, who won his 11th career title, might finally get some of the credit he deserves at the top of the game, even though he doesn’t have the raw power of his peers. Since his rookie season in 2004, only Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have won more U.S. PGA Tour events.
It also was his third win in his last six starts, dating to the BMW Championship outside Chicago in September that qualified him for the winners-only event in Kapalua.
The 20-year-old Spieth birdied both par 5s on the front nine and looked as though he might become the youngest player with two PGA Tour wins since Ralph Guldahl in 1932. His signature shot was from a bunker short of the 14th green. He blasted out to 6 feet above the hole for a chance to match birdies with Zach Johnson, in the group ahead.
Except that he missed it.
He then had to scramble for par on the 15th when what he thought was a perfect shot rolled down the slope 45 yards away. It took two chips to reach the green, and only a 10-foot par putt kept him in the game.
Spieth missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 16th, before recovering with two birdies at the end.
Dustin Johnson, trying to become the third back-to-back winner at Kapalua, opened with two bogeys and never caught up.
Simpson also fell back early with consecutive bogeys and spent the rest of the day chasing the leaders. He birdied three of his last five holes, but that wasn’t enough to keep pace with Zach Johnson.
Scott, the Masters champion, got within one shot of the lead with an eagle on the 15th hole, only for his wedge to hit the flag on the 16th. He had to settle for par on the hole, and then closed his round with a bogey.