Bizarre finish aside, Johnson deserves Colonial title

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May 27, 2012
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Seven lead changes were not enough. Four two-stroke swings weren't enough. Neither were two balls rolling into the water, nor one bunker shot that ricocheted off the lip and nearly hit its author.

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In fact, the two-man drama between Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner didn't end with the final putt on Sunday. Having spent the better part of this weekend playing at a different level than the rest of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial field, it was only fitting that one last bizarre twist was in store. A most entertaining day on the PGA TOUR was about to get even more interesting.

It came less than two minutes after Johnson rolled in his 4-foot, 7-inch par putt at the 18th green, the finishing touch to what he thought was a three-stroke win. On a day in which neither player was at his best, Johnson survived to beat the TOUR's hottest golfer, who was seeking to make history in Texas. Denying Dufner his second straight win and third in a month was like "unseating a king," Johnson said.

Johnson was emotional. His caddie, Damon Green, had lost his father less than two weeks ago; player and caddie having just shared a long embrace. It was Johnson's second win at Colonial in three years. Another royal tartan plaid jacket would soon be slipped over his shoulders.

But then Green approached him.

"Did you move your mark," he asked Johnson, referring to the ball mark that Johnson had moved, at Dufner's request, prior to his final putt.

"Yes."

"Did you move it back?"

Johnson thought about it, then replied: "No, I did not."

Oops.

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Johnson to No. 3
Victory at Colonial moved Zach Johnson to No. 3 in the race for the FedExCup while Jason Dufner increased his lead in the season-long competition. Standings

CBS on-course reporter Peter Kostis had noticed what nobody else had. After Johnson moved his mark out of Dufner's line, he failed to move it back. Green hadn't noticed; he was raking a sand trap. Dufner hadn't noticed; he simply wanted to get out of the way and let Johnson enjoy the moment.

Johnson, meanwhile, was already a bit scatterbrained at the moment; he had hit out of order at the 18th tee box, a move that is not subject to penalty but could irk playing partners the wrong way (it did not with Dufner). "Not paying attention," Johnson explained about hitting his tee shot first.

Neither was his paying attention on the green, too. Replays showed that Johnson indeed failed to return his mark to the proper spot, and thus putted from the wrong place, a violation of rule 20-7. Rules official John Mutch informed Green of the violation, and the two-stroke penalty assessed with it. Green then went to ask his man a couple of difficult questions.

Fortunately for Johnson, it was only two strokes. That still left him at 12 under, one ahead of Dufner.

Even more fortunate for Johnson, he had yet to sign his scorecard. Had he done so, he would have been disqualified and Dufner declared the winner. Having Kostis speak up so quickly allowed Johnson to correctly mark his scorecard with a double bogey on the final hole.

Zach's stats
Here's how Zach Johnson ranked in a number of stats this week
Driving accuracy T26
Driving distance 52nd
Greens in reg. T37
Strokes
gained - putting
3rd

"There are a number of adjectives that I am calling myself right now," Johnson said. "Lucky would be the biggest one I can think of."

Imagine if Johnson had been just two strokes ahead instead of three going into the final hole. Imagine if he hadn't made that final putt from the wrong spot. Imagine having to regroup for a playoff.

"Let's just count it as a hypothetical and move on," Johnson said. "It wouldn't have been easy."

Imagine if Dufner had been given a reprieve, another chance to become the first player in TOUR history to win on back-to-back weeks at the two North Texas events and match Ben Hogan by winning both tournaments in the same season. Imagine Dufner getting a 19th hole on Sunday against Johnson, all square.

"It would be extremely unfortunate for him," Dufner said, "and extremely lucky for me."

Instead, justice was served. Johnson suffered his penalty but did not suffer the loss of a win he deserved. Down by a stroke to start the day, he was the more solid of the two, especially down the stretch when it mattered the most.

In a rollercoaster day atop the leaderboard that had already included Dufner finding the water at the ninth hole and Johnson hitting the lip of the bunker -- and nearly himself -- at the 12th, the two were tied going into the 14th hole. But Johnson struck his biggest putt of the day, a 10-footer for birdie and the lead, the seventh and final lead change. It was his ninth one-putt at that point.

Then at the 15th, Dufner found trouble. His 3-wood off the tee rolled into a fairway bunker; he was shocked, since his 3-wood in earlier rounds have never gone that far. Then his 9-iron from 142 yards drifted to the left, hit the green, bounced left and dribbled into the water.

In Saturday's third round, Johnson's approach shot at the same hole had also gone left but landed a little farther and stopped short of getting wet. He would get up-and-down for par. Dufner was not as lucky on Sunday. After the drop, he was "pretty much dead" and his chip ran off the green on the other side.

Triple bogey. From there, Dufner was pretty much dead in terms of winning, down by four strokes with three holes to play.

Round 4 Recap: Crowne Plaza

Zach Johnson out-duels Jason Dufner for his second victory at Colonial Country Club.

But if one hole killed Dufner's chances, so did his lack of accuracy off the tee. He missed 11 fairways Sunday after missing just 12 the previous three rounds. Given that he had been so dead-on for so long, it was shocking to see him hit any errant shots.

To his credit, Dufner didn't blame fatigue, either physically or mentally, from the pressure of being in contention in so many rounds -- or the whirlwind that comes with getting married -- in the last month. His 4-over 74 was simply a by-product of poor swings on a tight course that allows little room for error.

"It wasn't meant to be today," he said, then later added: "It's not bad luck. It's just bad play."

Maybe it was meant for Johnson. The green ribbons that he and Green wore on their caps were in memory of Green's dad, who died 10 days ago. "He was always in our corner," Johnson said.

And what could've been an awful twist of fate with his mistake at the 18th green simply turned into a goofy one. When Johnson entered the media center for his post-round press conference, he announced himself over the loudspeaker as the "ever stupid Zach Johnson."

It was fortunate he could laugh about it.

"Bottom line is it doesn't matter," Johnson said. "I was lucky."

On this day, he was the luckiest and the most skillful. Sometimes it takes both to emerge as a champion.

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