Johnson grabs second win of '09 in Knoxville playoff

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If Kevin Johnson wins one more time on the Nationwide Tour this season, he will automatically move to the PGA TOUR.
June 14, 2009
Joe Chemycz, PGA TOUR Staff

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Kevin Johnson tapped in a short birdie on the second hole of a playoff to defeat New Zealand's Bradley Iles and win the Knoxville Open. Johnson and Iles finished regulation play at 20-under-par 268. The playoff was the seventh in the tournament's 20-year history and the second in a row at Fox Den Country Club.

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The win is also the second in three weeks for the 42-year-old Johnson and the sixth of his career, matching the Nationwide Tour's all-time wins record shared by Sean Murphy, Matt Gogel and Jason Gore. More importantly, it moves him to within one win of an "instant promotion" to the PGA TOUR this year.

"It was maybe only a foot but it sure looked longer than that because of what it was worth," said Johnson, who collected $94,500 for the victory.

The win pushes his season earnings to a career-high $253,445 and moves him to No. 2 on the money list, another personal best for a pro career that began shortly after Johnson graduated Clemson University in 1989.

Blake Adams (65) and David McKenzie (72) finished tied for third, one stroke back. McKenzie, the second- and third-round leader, began the day with a three-stroke lead over Johnson and was tied for the lead after 71 holes but suffered a three-putt bogey on the final hole to miss joining the overtime session.

Iles matched the course record with a 9-under 63 and reached the clubhouse nearly an hour before the final twosome of Johnson and McKenzie.

"The end of regulation was basically a playoff too," said Johnson. "If one of us makes birdie there we don't need the playoff. I figured at worst, you make a par and you're in a playoff."

Iles and Johnson returned to the tee at the par-5 18th hole, which played to 550 yards and has water guarding the front and right of the green. Both players opted to play it as a three-shot hole, with Johnson rolling in an 8-footer for birdie and Iles canning a 6-footer on top to send it back to the 18thtee.

The second time around the two were roughly in the same spots after laying up with their second shots. Iles left his wedge 10 feet shy of the pin while Johnson spun a wedge back from 90 yards to within 15 inches. When Iles missed, Johnson polished off the formalities.

"The last two years were just dismal," said Johnson, who made only three of 22 cuts in 2008 and three of 14 the year before. "It's not like I was playing poorly, I just couldn't get off the cut line. I knew I needed to do something because what I had wasn't working. I needed to make a change or quit playing."

Johnson sought out Jeff Leishman, an acquaintance of a dozen years and a coach to several of Johnson's cohorts.

"I think I went searching for a new golf swing and a new Kevin Johnson," he said. "Jeff didn't make big changes but worked on getting me back to what makes me tick. I had gotten to steering it around with handcuffs on. It wasn't fun playing."

A looser, freer-swinging Johnson emerged to begin the year, and the results were noticeable, though a bit unexpected.

"Everything is synched up better," said Johnson. "We've been working on getting my arms to work better with my body, as simple and as dull as that sounds. It's definitely a surprise. It's come a lot earlier than I would have imagined."

The tournament appeared to belong to McKenzie, a 41-year-old Australian who has recently moved to Raleigh, N.C. The complexion of the round changed dramatically on the par-5 5th hole where McKenzie held a three-shot advantage over Johnson.

McKenzie yanked his tee shot out of bounds to the left and made a disastrous double bogey while Johnson made birdie to tie.

"He probably didn't make a swing like that all week," said Johnson.

"I let everybody back in it at that point," said McKenzie.

It was a race to the finish for the rest of the afternoon, with several challenging for the lead throughout the near 90-degree day. At the end, it was Johnson who emerged the winner to join 24-year old Australian Michael Sim as the Tour's two-time winners in 2009.

Jason Schultz (66) and Tjaart van der Walt (66) tied for fifth at 18-under 270.

Final-Round Notes:

• Sunday's scoring average of 69.349 was the lowest single-day scoring average since the tournament moved to Fox Den CC in 1999.

• The cumulative scoring average for the week was 70.251, more than a full stroke below last year's average of 71.260. It was also the lowest scoring average for the week since 1993, when Willow Creek Country Club yielded a scoring average of 70.091 on a par-71 layout.

Front 9 Back 9 Total
Round 1 34.910 35.645 70.555
Round 2 35.085 34.941 70.026
Round 3 35.048 35.399 70.404
Round 4 34.524 35.825 69.349

• Scoring averages for the week:

• The Nationwide Tour heads to Arkansas next week for the Fort Smith Classic at Hardscrabble Country Club June 18-21.

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