For some reason, Zach Johnson has grown on us slowly. He doesn't overpower golf courses, is not flashy and gets few accolades. But he's a gamer.
That was evident again over the weekend and especially Monday on Maui, where Johnson captured the first official PGA Tour event of 2014 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions -- guaranteeing himself a return trip to the Plantation course at Kapalua in 2015 and reminding us that he is one of the game's top competitors.
Johnson has proved this time and time again over the years, going back to the 2007 Masters, where he wedged his way around the par-5s at Augusta National and managed to hold off Tiger Woods to win the green jacket.
We saw it again last month at the unofficial World Challenge, where Johnson made up a 4-stroke deficit with 8 holes to play to tie Woods and then defeat him in a sudden-death playoff. Those kind of comebacks are rare against the world's No. 1 player, and while the victory was unofficial, it moved Johnson into the top 10 in the world for the first time in his career.
1. Don't Count Out Zach
Johnson's win in Hawaii was the 11th of his PGA Tour career, putting him with some pretty impressive company, including Payne Stewart. Only eight active players under the age of 50 have won more than Johnson.
And this is a guy whom some have referred to as a "journeyman."
"This is more than I would have thought," Johnson, 37, told reporters in Hawaii. "If somebody would have asked me going into my 11th season, if somebody were to ask me 10 years ago, 11 years ago, it would have been more than I thought ...
"I don't dream of that caliber. I don't dwell on that kind of thing. I just try to play and try to get better, because God knows I can get better at this game, too."
2. Jordan's Rules
Jordan Spieth might lament letting one get away, but there is certainly no shame in finishing second, especially for a 20-year-old second-year player who looks intent on building on his rookie-of-the-year season. Spieth held the lead for good portions of the final round but was unable to stick with Johnson through the crucial back-nine stretch.
Spieth didn't make any bogeys, but he let a couple of birdie opportunities get away. Needing an eagle at the last hole, Spieth left his putt woefully short but still managed a birdie and a solo-second finish, adding another $665,000 to his bank account while racking up world ranking points and U.S. Ryder Cup points. For the week, Spieth made just two bogeys.
"I think it's a great start to the year," he said. "From the Presidents Cup on, I had some changes to make in my game. I worked really hard, especially the last three weeks from Tiger's event on, very hard, because I wanted to prevent the mistakes I made with hazard balls, water balls or errant tee shots. So I made the changes necessary, and I was happy to not have the ball in the hazard this week, and only made two bogeys for four rounds. I mean, I can't ask for much more other than on this course to capitalize on some putts on some of the easy holes."
3. Adam's Break
It was no secret when Adam Scott announced at Kapalua that he'd be taking a long break after the two-tournament Hawaii swing. The reigning Masters champion said as much two months ago while playing a four-week stretch of tournaments in Australia. And these breaks will only be more common among the top-tier players.
Scott said that after this week's Sony Open, he will not play again until the Honda Classic, which means he will take the next six weeks off. He's then expected to play the WGC-Cadillac at Doral and is unsure of his schedule up to the Masters.
As he did last year, Scott is gearing his preparation around the majors. Matt Kuchar also said he'll take a hefty break after Hawaii, and a handful of players are in the midst of long layoffs, including Graeme McDowell, who doesn't plan to play until the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am next month.
4. Family Matters
Patrick Reed was easy to spot on the PGA Tour last year with his wife, Justine, on the bag. "Team Reed," they dubbed themselves, and Reed won his first tournament at the Wyndham Championship, defeating Jordan Spieth in a playoff.
Justine Reed had started caddying for her husband when he played on the Web.com Tour. But when Patrick Reed showed up in Hawaii, Justine was outside the ropes. That is because she is expecting the couple's first child in May. Not to worry, Justine's brother, Kessler Karain, has taken over.
"She's thinking about coming back right before the PGA Championship," Reed told Golfweek. "She wants to come back. She wants to get back at it, and I want her back on the bag. I'm looking forward to it."
Reed finished middle of the pack in a tie for 16th at Kapalua, earning $100,250.
5. Next Up
The PGA Tour heads from Maui to Oahu for the Sony Open of Hawaii at Waialae Country Club, a longtime stop on the PGA Tour. It is the first full-field event of 2014 and the eighth overall tournament of the 2013-14 season.
Of those who competed at Kapalua, 18 are scheduled to make the short hop to Oahu, including Hyundai Tournament of Champions winner Zach Johnson, Scott, Spieth, Kuchar and Jason Dufner. Others entered are John Daly, Retief Goosen, Singh and Fred Funk.