The Upshot: Round 4, Hyundai Tournament of Champions

January 06, 2014
By D.J. Piehowski, PGATOUR.COM

KAPALUA, Hawaii – If Jordan Spieth was hoping to drag Zach Johnson into another playoff, the way he did at the John Deere Classic, he never got the chance.

Johnson didn’t give an inch Monday at Kapalua, making four birdies in his final seven holes and earning his 11th PGA TOUR victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

The win moves Johnson to No. 7 in the FedExCup standings.

For more on Hyundai, check out: Wrap-up | Final leaderboard | ResultsTOUR Report | FedExCup points

FAIRWAY. GREEN. REPEAT: If you were expecting the kind of drama we saw at December’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, you don’t know Zach Johnson. He knows his brand of golf can appear boring. He just doesn’t care. And why should he?

Johnson was flawless down the stretch at Kapalua and as a result, he collected yet another PGA TOUR win, his second in his last five official starts (2013 BMW Championship in September). Johnson said earlier this week that he feels more comfortable on the golf course than he ever has.

But for as steady as he looks with the lead, Monday marked the eighth time Johnson has come from behind to win.

"I don't mind having to do that. I like trying to fight to get that win," he said. "But the main reason is because there are so many good players out here."

Few have been better than Johnson over the past few months. Since the 2013 John Deere Classic, he's made 11 PGA TOUR starts. Included in that are two wins, a loss in a playoff, and eight top 10s. After Monday's win, only 84 people in the history of golf have more PGA TOUR wins than the 37-year-old from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"This is more than I would have thought," Johnson said of his career total. "I don't have dreams of that caliber."

UNCHARTED TERRITORY: Today was the first time Jordan Spieth had ever entered the final round of a PGA TOUR event with the lead (which he shared with Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson).

“I didn’t sleep a whole lot differently,” said Spieth. “Honestly, I was very happy with how patient I was. Mentally, I felt like it was one of the best rounds I’ve ever played.”

Apart from a chip at the par-5 15th, which Spieth watched roll back to his feet, he was wholly positive about his first time playing in a final-round, final-pairing situation.

“I really felt like that was the only bad shot I hit all day,” he said. “I’m looking forward to trying to play my way into the final group next week.”

THE GREAT EQUALIZER: At a windy 7,452 yards, it’s been well documented that Kapalua is a paradise for long hitters. One way you can even the playing field is to have a wedge game like Zach Johnson.

Johnson, who famously won the 2007 Masters with the gameplan of laying up at all the par 5’s, showed off that skill again this week at Kapalua. Despite ranking 28th out of 30 in driving distance, Johnson, hit fairways and gave himself a chance to go after pins.

“At the beginning of the week, we looked at the course and thought, 'Why haven't we played good here?' We have a lot of wedges,’” caddie Damon Green said after the win. “We just focused on that part instead of the long holes. When he has that many wedges in his hand he's going to do some damage.”

Zach’s game plan was the same: Keep hitting fairways, keep putting 9-irons and wedges in play and eventually putts would start to drop, which is exactly what happened Monday.

"Everyone knows how good of a driver and putter he is," Green said. "But people are starting to realize how good his wedge game is, too."

In you’re not convinced, watch this a few more times.

FIRST TIME?: Between Kevin Streelman, Billy Horschel and Jordan Spieth, there was plenty of first-timer success this week at Kapalua. So, what the key to figuring out the tricky track the first time around?

“It’s just the putts,” said Horschel. “The green is built to slope one way, but with everything going to the ocean you have to figure out what the ball is actually going to do those last five, six feet. We have to learn that on the fly.”

Spieth had similar headaches on the greens.

"There are a lot of putts that start outside the hole," he said. "But for some reason I get over that and I don't trust it's going to break that much."

MORE PERSPECTIVE: We wrote yesterday about the tough times Paul Tesori, caddie of Webb Simpson, was going through this week, watching his newborn son Isaiah fight to survive after birth complications.

After tying Simpson for third at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Kevin Streelman was asked if he was disappointed. Instead of talking about birdies and bogeys, he went straight into his own experience in the ICU, just last week with his first child, Sophie.

“Before I left I whispered that I was going to win this tournament for her,” Streelman said. “Though I came up short, I think she'd still be proud of me.”

It's tough to argue with that.

WHAT’S NEXT: Zach Johnson said earlier in the week that his mindset at each tournament is the same: “Use this as a warm-up for next week. Use next week as a warm-up for the week after that.”

With three wins (one unofficial) in his last 6 starts, don’t be surprised to see Johnson pick off another one next week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, a tight course friendly to those who drive it well and draw the ball, both of which he excels at. Not to mention, he’s the 2009 champion.

When a media member pointed out that Johnson had now won a Hawaiian Slam of sorts, he responded appropriately.