Winning major golf championships is often about perseverance under pressure filled circumstances. The players, the fans and even the announcers got a real taste of major-style drama as Zach Johnson edged out Troy Matteson on the second playoff hole to win the 2012 John Deere Classic at the TPC Deere Run course in Silvis, Illinois.
Johnson shot a 6-under 65 on Sunday to tie with Matteson, who wobbled to a 2-under par 69. Matteson appeared out of contention with a double bogey on the short par-4 16th, but he bounced back with an improbable 60-foot bomb of a putt on the 17th hole to earn his way into the playoff with Johnson.
On the first playoff hole (No. 18), Zach Johnson hit into what is now known as “Stricker’s Bunker” on the left side of the fairway. Matteson pushed his drive right and got a break as it kicked partly out of the trees to leave a shot at the green, albeit a difficult one. Almost unbelievably, both players went into the water hazard with their second shots. Matteson pitched his fourth shot about 10 feet past the hole. Johnson actually took four nerve-wracking drops to get in position for his fourth and left it 18 feet past the hole. His putt slid five feet past the hole. Matteson then had a put for the win, but he also hit his putt several feet past the cup. Both players made their short putts to take the playoff to a second hole.
On the second playoff hole Johnson, failed to hit the fairway again and found himself in the same left fairway bunker. Matteson put his shot in the fairway, but it almost made no difference what Matteson did next because Johnson hit the shot of a lifetime on his second, carving a 6-iron out of the sand to six inches. Matteson left himself 20 feet to stay in the tournament; in a metaphor for his week, he came up just short. Johnson kicked in his putt and became the Tour’s fourth multiple tournament winner in 2012, joining Tiger Woods (3), Jason Dufner and Hunter Mahan. Johnson’s ninth career victory also gave him his biggest come from behind victory, coming from four strokes off the lead in the final round to catch third-round leader Matteson. Matteson, who had missed one more cut than he had made coming into the John Deere, enjoyed his best finish of the year and also got a great consolation prize by qualifying for the 2012 British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes this week.
Two-time defending champion Steve Stricker, who won in dramatic fashion in 2011 with one of the best shots of the year on the 18th hole setting up a victory-clinching birdie, was in great position to notch his third consecutive win going into the final holes. But a series of uncharacteristically erratic drives led to bogeys on Nos. 14, 15 and 17, leaving Stricker tied for fifth place at 16-under 268. Third-place finisher Scott Piercy finished just two shots out of the playoff by shooting a brilliant, bogey-free 64 on Sunday (18-under 266). Aussie John Senden also had window of opportunity when he carded a birdie and eagle on Nos. 14 and 15, but he slammed it on his own hand with bogeys on the next two holes and finished in solo fourth place.
Lee Trevino in 1971 is the only golfer to win the week before the British Open (the Canadian Open) and then go on to win the Open championship the next week. The chances of Zach Johnson becoming the second are considered slim. Indeed, he probably isn’t even the player with the last name Johnson with the best chance; that distinction would belong to compatriot Dustin Johnson. But Z. Johnson, winner of the 2007 Masters, is clearly in winning form and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him among the leaders next Sunday.