Only once the last putt dropped did Dustin Johnson finally allow a smile, and later a few tears, to crack his stone-like expression. For this record-breaking US Masters victory, on a day where his commanding lead almost vanished in an early twist, this was an affirmation of his status as the world’s best player.
On Sunday as the American leant on every last drop of mental fortitude during an anxious front-nine to convert his overnight advantage and clinch a maiden Green Jacket. This win might have been made on Saturday when he blitzed the course with near-effortless contempt en route to a 65, but it was hard-earned on Sunday.
“I tried not to watch the leaderboard,” he said afterwards. “I made a great shot at six and made birdie and then I settled down. It was a tough day – always tough on the final day of a major. The Masters is the biggest tournament. It’s the one I wanted to win most. I’m proud of the way I handled myself.”
Johnson mastered the tumult of one’s own thoughts. This version of him – mature, consistent, implacable – is far removed from the hungrily naive twenty-something who collapsed so abysmally at the US Open a decade ago.
As Australian Cameron Smith and South Korean Sungjae Im stuttered in their attempts to become the first winning debutants since 1979, Johnson was able to cover their surge and come through the dreaded Amen Corner unscathed. A hat-trick of birdies at 13, 14 and 15 brought another fist pump and the loping swagger back to his shoulders.
This Masters tournament that had begun under such strangely unique circumstances, with Thursday’s rain and autumn conditions leaving the course sodden and substantially vulnerable, ended in a rather more predictable fashion.
The only true surprise came in the lack of recognisable challengers. Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm, who shared the lead with Johnson heading into the weekend, fell victim to the National’s firmer greens and greedier rough on Saturday. Rory McIlroy, whose 69 briefly had him flicker into contention, was always racing in vain to fan the embers after another wretched first round.
Special mention should be paid to Cameron Smith who finished with a 69, and although that left him five shots back of Johnson, the 27-year-old becomes the first person in history to finish with four rounds in the sixties. This was his second top-five in four appearances at Augusta, and his threat will not be overlooked in years to come.
For a wearisome Tiger Woods, who was already well out of contention coming into the final day, his defence will instead be remembered for a harrowing episode at the 12th hole which brought Woods thudding to the bed of the leaderboard, finding the water twice with his approach and then inexplicably again from the back bunker. A 10 was the five-time winner’s highest single score on any hole at Augusta.
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond slipped back to a final score of +2 with a three-over-par 75 on Saturday and Sunday after impressively made the cut with rounds of 69 and 71. This was a fine performance for a young man making his maiden appearance at Augusta National.