Wednesday 28 September 2016

Zach Johnson claims play-off Open victory as Irish challenge falls short

Published 20/07/2015 | 19:58

Zach Johnson celebrates as he kisses the Claret Jug after winning the British Open golf championship on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland
Zach Johnson celebrates as he kisses the Claret Jug after winning the British Open golf championship on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland
Zach Johnson reacts after making his birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland,

Padraig Harrington and amateur Paul Dunne's hopes of Open victory fell away on the final round as Zach Johnson claimed a dramatic play-off victory at St Andrews.

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Johnson defeated Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a play-off for the Open Championship on Monday after Jordan Spieth agonisingly failed to keep his grand slam dream alive.

Spieth needed a birdie on the 18th hole at St Andrews to join the four-hole aggregate play-off, but saw his approach spin back off the green into the Valley of Sin and narrowly missed the birdie attempt.

Johnson had set the clubhouse target on 15 under after a closing 66 that was matched 40 minutes later by Leishman, whose total of 130 for the third and fourth rounds - he carded a flawless 64 on Sunday - equalled the lowest 36-hole total in major history.

Overnight co-leader Paul Dunne had a nightmare start to his final round and was unable to replicate his form on the Old Course, while Harrington, who moved to co-leader at an early stage, was unable to match the blistering pace of those around him at the top of the leaderboard.

Read more: 'Nervous' - Paul Dunne reflects on missed Open chance

Zach Johnson reacts after making his birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland,
Zach Johnson reacts after making his birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland,

Dunne's challenge had a difficult start after trouble on the opening hole.

The first amateur since Bobby Jones in 1927 to lead the Open after 54 holes, Dunne mis-hit his second shot so badly that it came up short of the famous Swilcan Burn in front of the green.

The 22-year-old managed a wry smile but was unable to save his par and things went from bad to worse on the next, where he hit a wild drive and two provisional balls into the gorse.

Fortunately his first drive was so far off line that it ended up on the practice chipping green, from where he was required to take a free drop, and after coming up short of the green with his second he chipped to 10 feet and missed the par attempt.

Read more: Greystones 'bursting with pride' as Paul Dunne completes memorable Open weekend

To his credit, Dunne bounced back immediately with a birdie from five feet on the third, but bogeys at 10 and 12, plus a double bogey at 13 put paid to any chance of Major glory.

Zach Johnson celebrates with the Claret Jug following day five of The Open Championship 2015 at St Andrews,
Zach Johnson celebrates with the Claret Jug following day five of The Open Championship 2015 at St Andrews,

Harrington had a mixed day too, hitting three birdies in the first five holes before the wheels began to come off his title push. A double bogey at six started the spiral and he dropped further another shot on eight. With bogeys in four of the last five holes, the two-time Open winner finished with a round of 75.

Read more: 'I felt good mentally' - Padraig Harrington on rediscovery of form

Entering the final stretch, Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 Open at St Andrews, still had two holes to play and after a crucial par save on the 17th the South African birdied the 18th from five feet to make it a three-way aggregate play-off on the first, second, 17th and 18th.

Johnson and Oosthuizen both birdied the first as Leishman three-putted from long range and Johnson edged ahead with another birdie on the second.

All three players bogeyed the 17th and after Johnson missed his birdie attempt on the 18th, Oosthuizen's attempt from 12 feet also missed to give Johnson his second major title, eight years after victory in the Masters.

An emotional Johnson said: "I feel blessed to be the champion, I feel honoured to part of the history of this game and to don my name on that trophy, especially with the names before me. Humbling and surreal are two words that come to mind.

"I can't play any better than what I did. I had a lull on Friday and Saturday, but nothing significant, but stayed in it and waited for the opportunities and made a few."

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