5 Things: Johnson wins; Spieth wobbles; more
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Zach Johnson played to his strengths and took control of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on the back nine Monday for his 11th victory on the PGA Tour.
Since Johnson joined the Tour in 2004, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have won more tournaments. Next up for Johnson will be this week's Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, where he won in 2009.
"I just picked it apart," said Johnson, who shot a closing 7-under 66 for a 19-under 273 at Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course. "I didn't deviate from anything I typically do on a golf course."
Jordan Spieth, who had a back-and-forth final round of 69, finished a shot back of Johnson. Webb Simpson and Kevin Streelman finished another shot back, with Jason Dufner alone in fifth at 15 under. Billy Horschel matched Johnson's final-round 66 and was among four players at 14 under.
Johnson's stats were convincing along the way. Johnson hit 83.3 percent of his fairways, good for third in the field; 77.8 percent of his greens in regulation (17th); ranked 17th in strokes gained-putting; averaged 267.1 yards in driving distance (23rd); and ranked third in proximity to the hole.
The bogey-free final round featured seven birdies, including three straight from Nos. 14 to 16 that propelled Johnson to the win.
Beyond Johnson's victory, here are 5 Things to Know from Kapalua, Hawaii:
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1. FOR SOPHIA: Kevin Streelman left Scottsdale, Ariz., with wife Courtney and a new baby girl, Sophia Marie, born just after Christmas.
With his daughter in ICU early on, Streelman had to make a decision to come to Maui, which he ultimately did, and will now return to Phoenix with a third-place check of $382,000, hopefully enough for his new daughter to go to college in 2032.
“I whispered that I was going to win this tournament for her,” Streelman said. “Though I came up short, I think she'd still be proud of me."
Three shots back when the round began, Streelman started slowly, but a surge over the last six holes on the front nine moved him from 11 under to 13 under and in position for a charge on the back nine.
After four consecutive pars, Streelman made a move with four consecutive birdies to get to 17 under – in the mix with the par-5 18th to go.
“I made a great run there with four in a row,” Streelman said. “Unfortunately, I needed that ball to release a little more on 18 and it just didn't.”
Now Streelman returns to Phoenix for a three-week break with his daughter before he plays in the Phoenix Open.
“Golf had its proper place in my life,” Streelman said. “It wasn't that important, but it was just about the right amount of importance.”
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2. SPIETH STEADY, THEN STRUGGLES: For Jordan Spieth it was simple: Play your game and good things will happen. At least that’s what he said Sunday night when he was tied for his first ever 54-hole lead with Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson.
And for the front nine, Spieth did pretty much exactly that. He made the turn at 2 under and held the lead at 16 under.
But things changed on the back nine and Spieth was feeling the heat as Zach Johnson and others moved up the leaderboard.
Eventually Spieth got out of his comfort zone, started looking at leaderboards and struggling on holes he shouldn’t have. By then it was too late.
“I kept on telling Michael (Spieth’s caddie) that I needed to get three birdies, at least, or three birdies for a playoff,” Spieth said after his runner-up finish. “Keep reminding me you need three, you need three. I just waited too long. I was very pleased with the finish being able to birdie the last two holes and at least have somewhat of a chance on 18 there. But, ultimately, (Nos.) 14, 15, 16, really kind of hit me hard in the middle of the back nine.”
It seems hard to believe that Spieth, at 20, continues to put himself in these positions on what is becoming a fairly consistent basis.
In this particular case, the Plantation Course at Kaplaua is not kind to newcomers. But Spieth started quickly with a first-round 66 and never looked back. He posted three rounds in the 60s over four days.
And now Spieth takes a breath before starting again at Waialae, another course he has no history on.
“History shows from last year that I've played better after I've played the week before,” Spieth said. “There wasn't much rust this week. I was very happy about that. But next week's a tight golf course and flatter and a different golf course. I'm playing really well. So when you're playing really well, why not go right into another event?”
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3. A MATURING ROOKIE: Billy Horschel made his debut at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and for three rounds looked like a rookie on the Plantation course, but Monday he looked like an old pro jumping up the leaderboard with a 7-under 66.
”It could have been better, but the first week of the year I played well with very little practice. So, I'm happy,” Horschel said of his 14-under finish. “Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to get me the 'W.' ”
Horschel was right about not winning, with Zach Johnson lapping the field on the back-nine. The former Florida Gator had to take solace in the fact that he figured out a configuration in his bag that might make a difference in the future.
Starting at the Shark Shootout, Horschel dropped the 4-iron and added a fourth wedge, which according to Horschel has made a big difference.
But at 27, Horschel believes his maturity has become an asset as well.
“I think it's more attitude,” Horschel said of what the difference is in his game now versus when he got on the PGA Tour. “It's more patience than anything. Not getting upset, not getting ahead of myself. I mean, shoot, I doubled the first hole in the first round. I three‑putted from 4 feet, so I could have easily been in a bad mood.“
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4. I.T.: Many players and caddies were wearing tributes to Isaiah Tesori, the son of Paul Tesori, the caddie for Webb Simpson on Monday.
Isaiah is in intensive care after a difficult birth with health issues that according to Simpson, who was getting it third-hand, involved an infection of the brain.
Since the players and caddies are so close-knit out on the PGA Tour, impromptu displays of support pop up when issues like this occur.
It was either "ISAIAH" as Ted Scott, Bubba Watson’s caddie who filled in for Tesori, wrote on the bill of his cap or the "IT," which others did.
“I woke up at 2 (a.m.), 3 (a.m.), 4 (a.m.) and cried each time,” Scott said. “At some point I became all cried out.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Webb Simpson overtakes Jimmy Walker in the FedEx Cup Standings. Simpson moved up three spots and leads with 748 points with Walker at 733 points. . . . Jordan Spieth made the biggest move this week, earning 300 points and moving from 110th to 11th on the list. . . . The hardest hole for the week was the par-4 17th, with a stroke average of 4.158; the easiest was the par-5 fifth with a stroke average of 4.15. . . . Across the state, Monday qualifying for this week's Sony Open took place; Frank Lickliter II, Derek Tolan, Eric Dugas and Martin Trainer earned spots in the field.
– Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about the Monday qualifiers.