Commentary

Zach Johnson stands last at Colonial

Golfer withstands ragged slugfest, penalty; rallies to second plaid jacket

Updated: May 28, 2012, 12:41 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jason Dufner's remarkable month-long run that he hoped would culminate Sunday with a plaid jacket and a seat next to hero and legend Ben Hogan was instead overtaken by Zach Johnson's own stake into local golf lore.

The pair's fantastic, blow-by-blow finale at Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial might have lacked TV star power but it had plenty of ready-made TV intrigue between two dominant golfers -- even if their play turned ragged at times in the oven-like conditions -- who had buried the field through three hot, humid and wind-swept rounds.

Zach Johnson
Ron Jenkins/Getty ImagesZach Johnson shot even in the final round -- before a two-stroke penalty was assessed -- to win Colonial for the second time in the last three tries.
Separated by a stroke entering the final round, the two sluggers swapped the lead on three holes, emerged tied after five other holes and delivered three stunning, multi-stroke momentum swings in the final 10 holes.

The lead either way only extended beyond two strokes when Johnson seized it at 15 and then rode Dufner's late misfortune to a four-stroke lead after 16. Johnson hung on for the eventual one-stroke victory, his first -- despite a strange, two-stroke penalty on 18 -- since his tournament course-record win here in 2010.

With both golfers in range of Johnson's 21-under course record to start the final round on this venerable old course, the day ended exactly the way a loitering caddy had predicted before this two-horse race teed off -- with the winner forging through the fatiguing conditions just enough to shoot even.

Remarkably, even it would be.

Johnson rallied from a two-stroke deficit after a bogey on No. 8 to finish the day at an even-70, and minus-14 for the tournament. The two-stroke penalty was assessed on 18 for not replacing his marker, a mistake Johnson later called "stupid," dropped his final score to 12-under for the tournament and plus-2 for the day. Dufner finished at plus-4 on the day and minus-11 overall.

The win secured Johnson his second Colonial plaid winner's jacket in three years, matching the feat accomplished by Kenny Perry (2005 and 2003) and Lee Trevino (1978 and 1976).

A year from now, how can Johnson not be considered the favorite to become the first since the great Hogan in 1952 and '53 (and 1946, '47) to win this tournament in consecutive years?

"It's an honor to put this jacket on once," Johnson said. "It's just completely; I'm in shock to put it on twice, so very lucky."

For Dufner, his luck just ran out.

Coming off last week's grueling HP Byron Nelson Championship that required a 25-foot putt on the final hole, Dufner topped out at minus-16 on Saturday and got there again after a birdie Sunday at No. 6. But over the last 10 holes, perhaps mental and physical fatigue of his amazing month began to set in. Dufner twice found water for a double-bogey on No. 9 when his ball hit the green and spun back into the drink, and then a triple on 15 when he overshot the hole and raced it into the pond.

The blunders sent him reeling, turning a two-stroke lead after No. 8 into a four-stroke deficit with three holes to play. The miscues opened the door for Johnson and ended Dufner's quest to join Hogan, his hero, as the only golfer in the past 66 years to win the PGA Tour events in Dallas and Fort Worth in the same season. Still no one has won both when played on consecutive weeks.

[+] EnlargeJason Dufner
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJason Dufner wilted in his bid to join Ben Hogan as the only golfers to sweep the area golf stops in the same year.
And Tiger Woods remains the last, in 2009, to win back-to-back tournaments.

Both golfers seemed to be equally battling the energy-sapping conditions for a fourth day as well as each other, mano-a-mano, as playing partners for a second consecutive day and all the emotional ebbs and flows that came with it.

"There was a lot of different peaks and [valleys] today with the round," Dufner said. "It seemed like every time somebody got control they'd make a huge mistake and you'd be back into the lead or tied with the lead or behind. All those things kind of wear on you a little bit and it's definitely tough to compete at that high level mentally and physically. I definitely have a new appreciation for it."

Dufner, 35, rose to the top of the FedEx Cup standings after capturing his first career win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at the end of April and then winning the Nelson last week -- a stretch broken up by his wedding -- and narrowly missed becoming the first player to win his first three Tour events in the same calendar year since David Duval in 1997.

Of course there's still plenty of time for the fast-rising Dufner to do that, starting when he returns to action at the U.S. Open.

Rather than riding the momentum of a momentous Texas two-step into a two-week break, it is the 36-year-old Johnson who celebrates a landmark victory of sorts at Colonial and takes home the $1.15 million payout for navigating Hogan's Alley better than anyone once again.

Johnson now has four consecutive top-10 finishes at Colonial, matching Tom Watson (1977-80) as the last to do that. Johnson dedicated the win to his longtime caddy Damon Green, whose father recently died.

About the only thing that didn't go Johnson's way was seeing his Colonial-record 15-round streak of sub-par rounds come to a close Sunday. Penalty or not, that mark was coming to an end.

As did Dufner's incredible month, one that has vaulted the mostly anonymous, shaggy-haired Auburn alum into something of a household name.

"What he has done the last month is beyond impressive," Johnson said. "I said it earlier, I kind of feel like I unseated a king to me because he has been on top for four weeks."

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