PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Dustin Johnson had to work a lot longer – and harder – for another victory at Pebble Beach.
With a birdie from the bunker on the 18th hole Sunday, Johnson became the first player in 20 years to win back-to-back Pebble Beach National Pro-Am titles, closing with a 2-over 74 for a one-shot victory over David Duval and J.B. Holmes.
It certainly wasn’t as easy as last year, when Johnson was declared the winner after 54 holes because of rain.
“All you can ask for is a chance to win on the last hole,” Johnson said.
On a day of stunning vistas with enough wind that only seven players broke 70, Johnson posted the highest final round by a Pebble Beach champion since Johnny Miller closed with a 74 in 1994. But when Johnson stepped onto the tee at the famous par-5 18th that runs along the Pacific Ocean, he knew a birdie would make up for everything.
“It’s such a gorgeous hole,” Johnson said. “If you miss it a little left, it’s not so pretty.”
He hammered the tee shot into the ocean breeze and beyond the small pine trees, put his approach into a simple lie in the front bunker and blasted out to just over 3 feet. Johnson lightly pumped his fist when he made the putt.
The 25-year-old Johnson is the first player since Tiger Woods to come out of college and win in each of his first three years on the PGA Tour.
His birdie ended the hopes of Duval, who last won at the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour at the end of the 2001 season and has fallen so far that he is playing this year on sponsors’ exemptions. He closed with a 69, the first time since the 2001 Buick Challenge that he shot in the 60s for an entire tournament.
“I certainly didn’t think 69 would have given me a chance to the win the tournament,” Duval said.
The real heartache, however, belonged to Paul Goydos.
Despite giving up some 50 yards off the tee, Goydos had a one-shot lead with five holes to play until he wound up on the wrong side of the par-5 14th green and took a quadruple-bogey 9 to end his chances.
Duval didn’t have the length to reach the 18th, and his third shot came up just short enough to spin down the slope to 30 feet. He missed the putt, then headed to the putting green with his children looking on.
Holmes couldn’t reach the 18th because he was in the right rough, and he missed a 12-foot birdie putt.
Johnson became the first player since Davis Love III in 2003 to win Pebble Beach with a birdie on the 72nd hole from the final group. He finished at 16-under 270 and moved to No. 2 in the Ryder Cup standings.
His future looks as bright as the sunshine that graced the Monterey Peninsula for so much of the week. Not since Mark O’Meara in 1990 has someone won back-to-back at Pebble Beach, and this can only help Johnson with the U.S. Open coming to Pebble this summer. The other back-to-back winners are all in the Hall of Fame – Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
The tour includes Snead, even though his wins were 18 and 36 holes. The tour no longer credits official victories under 36 holes.
“That’s not a bad list,” Johnson said. “Anytime you’re on a list with those guys, you’re doing all right.”
Johnson joins Sean O’Hair as the only Americans in the their 20s with three PGA Tour victories.
Duval earned $545,600 and might be able to take some confidence to Mexico for the Mayakoba Classic. After he tied for second in the U.S. Open last summer, Duval took the next two weeks off and missed seven cuts over his last eight tournaments to lose his card.
Goydos was in good shape until he came up short of the 14th green and tried to flop it over the edge of a bunker. It came out too hard and went down the slope. His chip wasn’t hard enough and rolled back toward him. Then came his sixth shot, some 35 feet beyond the flag, inches from rolling off the front of the green. He three-putted for 9.
Goydos wasn’t alone.
Bryce Molder was on the fringe of contention until making a mess on the par-5 14th, all because of one swing. He missed the green to the left on his third shot, and his chip went down the slope and off the front of the green. It took Molder three tries to stay on the upper tier, and he two-putted for a 9.
Alex Prugh, a rookie trying to finish in the top 10 for the fourth straight week, was in position until he came up short of the green and took six shots to get down, including a shot over the green and down the slope on the other side.
It was the kind of carnage typically found in a U.S. Open, which is still four months away.
The course will play entirely different, mainly because of firm greens in June. Still, it doesn’t hurt Johnson to have won twice here, even if he had only two sub-par holes in the final round.
The other was his eagle on the par-5 sixth, when he pounded a tee shot and had only a 6-iron to the green, sticking it to 4 feet.
Everyone made mistakes over the final few hours. Ultimately, Johnson’s mishap was the most minor. All he did was three-putt from 15 feet above the hole at No. 9 for a double bogey.