Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Spieth’s Collapse, Willett’s Leap Forward and Worthy Masters’ Champions

April 10th, 2016 · No Comments · Golf

In 2007, in a previous life, I wrote an opinion piece, on the second Sunday of April, about how Zach Johnson was not the right guy to win the Masters.

My suggestion was that a Masters champion needs to be someone already famous. It was not a place for a guy to make a breakthrough; that just seemed weird.

This is not the PGA Championship, where out-of-the-blue winners are expected. This is the Masters. Your fame should precede you.

Yet there was Zach Johnson, the last man standing, one shot over par (the worst winning score at Augusta National since Jack Burke Jr. also registered a 289, in 1956).

Johnson’s only previous PGA victory had been in the Bell South tournament in 2004 — which I deemed a resume too thin to wear a green jacket.

And I thought about Zach Johnson today, when Danny Willett won the 2016 Masters.

This Masters likely will be best remembered as The One Jordan Spieth lost — with that nightmarish quadruple-bogey 7 on No. 12.

The defending Masters champion put two balls in the water and another in the sand at No. 12 as he went from one stroke ahead to three behind in the span of about 10 minutes.

Willett? Outside of England and, perhaps more specifically, his hometown of Rotherham, Yorkshire, he will be the afterthought to this Masters. The guy who won because Spieth imploded.

Which takes us back to Zach Johnson, who won at 1-over-par for the 2007 tournament in part because of cold and wind, but also because none of the big names just behind him — Tiger Woods, Rory Sabbatini and Retief Goosen — could come through.

That annoyed me, a bit. Any of those other three would have put a big name at the top of the tournament many consider the best in the world.

Looking back at winners prior to Zach Johnson, we find Phil Mickelson (twice), Tiger Woods (four times), Mike Weir, Vijay Singh, Jose Maria Olazabal (twice), Mark O’Meara, Nick Faldo (three times), Ben Crenshaw (twice), Bernhard Langer (twice), Fred Couples, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle.

Big names all.

That all-star lineup takes us back to 1987, when a journeyman named Larry Mize won. His victory at Augusta was the second of four PGA Tour wins Mize managed in his career. And he won that one via a playoff over Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman — infinitely more interesting players.

What separates Zach Johnson from Larry Mize is that Johnson really was a worthy Masters champion. We just didn’t know it at the time.

He since has won 10 more PGA tournaments, and a second major — the British Open last July. And you win two majors … you’re a very good player.

Maybe that is how Willett will approach this.

That was his first PGA Tour victory; the rest of his five wins of any significance came on the European Tour, including this year’s Dubai Desert Classic.

At 28, sure, he could put up a bunch more titles, maybe win another major — he was tied-sixth in the British Open last year.

But that is not the way to bet. Generally, the greats have done more than Willett has by age 28 — though Zach Johnson was 31 when he won his Masters and began winning in earnest.

It’s nothing person. Really, it isn’t. It’s about hoping stars will do star things.

It would have been more fun to see Jordan Spieth win — or other close pursuers like Lee Westwood (the current “best player not to win a major”) and Dustin Johnson.

I guess now we wait to see if Willett becomes the Second Coming of Zach Johnson. Or Larry Mize Redux.


0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment