PGA: Zach Johnson Defeated By 19-Year Old Jordan Spieth In JDC
By Mike Hlas (Story) and Scott Saville (Video)
SILVIS, Ill. Sunday's John Deere Classic gave the PGA Tour a great story and its youngest tournament-champion in 82 years.
It may also have made Zach Johnson feel 82 years old.
That's an exaggeration. Johnson handled losing (along with David Hearn) to Jordan Spieth on the Deere's fifth sudden-death playoff hole about as gracefully as one could. But he came achingly close to winning his second-straight JDC and his 10th Tour event overall.
"I feel like this is my profession, and the one thing you have to be is resilient," Johnson said. "So, I mean, I'll get over it pretty quick, get over the fact that I didn't win the playoff. I hope I keep the fact that I'm playing well and ride it out, but I'll be fine."
That said, oh, what might have been for the native Cedar Rapidian. Had Johnson just birdied No. 14 at TPC Deere Run, where 43 of the 71 other players did so on Sunday, he would have won. Had he not bogeyed the 18th hole in regulation for his first bogey of the day, he would been on his way to the British Open for the second-straight year with a JDC title in tow.
Had his 31-foot chip-in on the first playoff hole fallen in the cup instead of sliding inches away, it would have been a worthy sequel to his great birdie at 18 to win in last year's playoff here.
And had Johnson made a 10-foot putt on the second playoff hole, he would have again been the local hero.
Of course, had Spieth not improbably holed a chip shot from a rear greenside bunker for birdie on his final hole in regulation, he wouldn't have even been in the playoff. It was one of the Tour's shots of the year. It came out of the sand hot, took one hop about a foot from the cup, struck the lower part of the flagstick, and dropped into the cup.
"The luckiest shot I've ever hit in my life," Spieth said. "It was going a good six, seven feet past. ... It just took the perfect bounce.
Spieth looked destined for a runner-up finish on the third and fourth playoff holes, but Canada's Hearn missed birdie putts of 9 and 5 feet.
"I don't know what I did to deserve those breaks," Spieth said.
Two weeks before his 20th birthday, Spieth became the first teen winner on the Tour since Ralph Guldahl took the Santa Monica Open in 1931 at 19 years, 8 months and 3 days.
Spieth turned pro last December in the middle of his sophomore year at the University of Texas. Maybe he was emboldened by his tie for 21st as an amateur at last year's U.S. Open. Or by tying for 16th at the PGA's Byron Nelson Classic in 2011 as a 16-year-old.
At any rate, he turned pro without status on any worldwide golf tour. He used sponsor's exemptions to get his way into Tour events, and played well enough in those to earn special temporary member status. He had a whopping six Top Tens in 15 starts entering the JDC, which most grizzled veterans would have happily taken.
Now, Spieth is a full-fledged Tour member who won his way into this week's British Open and next April's Masters. That was a lucky bounce he got Sunday, all right.
Johnson, meanwhile, looked so poised to go back-to-back here. He had a 2-shot lead at the turn, and no one behind him was making a move. But he couldn't cash on the easier-scoring holes, the back nine.
He had nothing but pars from the 9th to the 16th holes. But his birdie on 17 got him to 20-under-par and put him in great shape to win. Then, his bogey on 18 let Spieth slip into the playoff, and Hearn followed.
"Clearly, all I needed was a par on 18," Johnson said. "I feel like I'm really strong in those situations. At least I have been in the past."
In all, Johnson played No. 18 four times Sunday. The first hurt. The fourth the third time it was used in the playoff was the crusher.
Johnson's tee shot was closer to the fairway than either of his playoff partners, but it landed directly in front of a tree. His punch-out onto the fairway skipped into the pond adjoining the left side of the hole, costing him a penalty shot. He and Hearn both bogeyed, Spieth made par, and a star was born.
"Right now," Spieth said, "I'm extremely pleased and a little worried about only having short sleeves going to Scotland."