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Tournament of Champions 2014: Late birdie blitz fires Zach Johnson to crown

Tournament of Champions 2014: 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson conquers a five-man challenge on the final day in Hawaii

Ryan Bailey
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2014 has been bookmarked long ago as one of the most anticipated seasons in recent golfing history.

The competitive nature and unpredictability of the past few years has meant that even a fortune teller would find it difficult to predict which golfers will be in the winner’s enclosure.

I hit some quality shots that helped and some quality putts

Zach Johnson

And if the opening weekend of the year is anything to go by, then golf fans are in for a real treat.

In the end, Zach Johnson – who had thrown away a three-shot lead during Sunday’s third round – recovered flawlessly to fend-off a four-man challenging pack to clinch the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and start his year in the best possible fashion.

It’s the 37-year-old’s 11th PGA Tour event victory and third win in six starts either side of Christmas. Since 2004, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickleson and Vijay Singh have won more.

Saturday’s seven-under par round of 66 had put Johnson in a commanding position in the 30-man field before his uncharacteristic bogey-laden third round saw him slip down the leader board.

Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Jordan Spieth, took full advantage of Johnson’s lapse to join defending champion Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson at the summit heading into the final round in Hawaii.

But, Johnson produced an exquisite display of approach play on the back nine as he carded four birdies in a five-hole stretch to claim the title by a solitary shot.

“I just picked it apart,” Johnson said.

“Today was a grind but I felt at ease. I was comfortable. Yesterday, I didn’t score that well.”

The American added: “Today I just tried to stay unemotional and remain athletic.

“I hit some quality shots that helped and some quality putts that helped even more. What I have learned when I am in contention, and I haven’t come through, it is because I am not doing what I was doing to get in contention.

“So the key is to just keep doing what you are doing.”

Heading into the back nine, Johnson had plenty of company at the top of the leader board with no fewer than five players in the running for the $5.7m title.

However, as others fell away – including his namesake, Dustin, whose grip on the trophy that he won 12 months ago slipped – Johnson rallied at the Plantation Course.

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

Jordan Spieth

Spieth proved to be his nearest challenger and could have forced a play-off on the 18th hole but couldn’t hole a 100-foot eagle putt in dramatic circumstances.

Spieth has been hotly tipped to become one of the game’s future stars and ensured he started off where he finished last year. The 20-year-old carded four birdies as he hit the turn with a one-shot lead but couldn’t keep tabs with Johnson as he let opportunities slip in the closing holes.

“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. But ultimately, 14, 15, 16 really kind of hit me hard in the middle of the back nine,” Spieth said.

Webb Simpson, who started the day in a tie for the lead, started with consecutive bogeys and couldn’t make up the ground thereafter.

The 2012 US Open winner did recover somewhat to card three birdies in the last five holes and finish in a tie for third with Kevin Streelman, who propelled himself up the leaderboard during Monday’s final round with a 67.

Simpson’s strong finish ensured he remains top of the FedEx Cup standings, albeit at this early stage of the year.

Adam Scott looked to make a late charge with an eagle on 15 but couldn’t sustain the momentum as he finished in a tie for sixth place with Matt Kuchar.

This week, the European Tour re-commences in South Africa for the Volvo Golf Champions tournament while the PGA Tour continues in Hawaii as six of the world’s top 25 players line-out for the Sony Open.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods has announced he’ll start his season at the Farmers Insurance Open trophy, where he’ll look to defend the title he won last year. Phil Mickelson is also expected to feature at Torrey Pines when the event gets underway on 23 January.

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