Johnson honoured by Open success
Published 20/07/2015 | 06:17
An emotional Zach Johnson defeated Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a play-off for the Open to claim his second major title 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 Johnson and Leishman on 15 under par, 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 after a closing 66 that was matched 40 minutes later by Australian 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.
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 last from five feet to make it a three-way aggregate play-off on the second Monday finish in Open history.
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 Oosthuizen missed from 12 feet for birdie on the 18th to force sudden death, leaving Johnson to lift the Claret Jug, eight years after victory in the Masters.
"I feel blessed to be the champion," said the 39-year-old, who fought back tears after the win and was quickly congratulated by Spieth, eight days after finishing a shot behind his Ryder Cup team-mate in the John Deere Classic.
"I feel honoured to be 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 am fairly speechless right now. Dreams have been realised and goals accomplished.
" 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."
Johnson began the final round three shots behind leaders Oosthuizen, Jason Day and Irish amateur Paul Dunne, but birdies on the second, fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth took him to the turn in 31.
Australia's Adam Scott matched that front nine and the pair also birdied the 10th, but as Scott's challenge collapsed on the back nine, his compatriot Leishman moved to the front.
Leishman, who had also covered the front nine in 31 and birdied the 10th and 12th, briefly held a two-shot lead when Johnson bogeyed the 17th, his right foot slipping on his second shot as a rain shower passed through.
But as Johnson rolled in a long birdie putt on the 18th, Leishman was failing to get up and down from a bunker on the 16th and the 31-year-old from Warrnambool could not find a decisive birdie of his own on the last.
Spieth's chances of a third consecutive major victory looked to have disappeared after he four-putted the eighth - sending his first putt off the green - to fall three behind, but the 21-year-old birdied the ninth and 10th and holed from 50 feet on the 16th for another to tie the lead.
Johnson, preparing for a possible play-off on the practice ground, heard the roar and checked his phone to confirm what had happened but it was then Spieth's turn to bogey the 17th after mishitting his approach and coming up well short of the green.
The Masters and US Open winner p ulled his drive on the 18th near the grandstands on the right-hand side of the first fairway a nd had to back off his second shot due to noise from spectators taking pictures.
And after regaining his composure the world number two - who would have overtaken the absent Rory McIlroy in the rankings with a victory - saw his approach spin back off the green into the Valley of Sin, from where Costantino Rocca famously holed 20 years ago to get into a play-off with John Daly.
However, this time there were no heroics and the birdie attempt slipped just past the hole, while playing partner Day left his birdie attempt to also get into the play-off inches short.
" I can't describe the magnitude as to what he (Spieth) was going through because I've never been in that position certainly," added Johnson, who moves from 25th to 12th in the world rankings. " We haven't really seen that with the exception of Tiger.
"Truthfully he could be sitting here. But to have a champion like Jordan take the time on 18 to give me best wishes speaks volumes as to what he is. He's a phenomenal talent, and I'm telling you right now, he's a better person than he is a golfer."