It’s a good thing Zach Johnson had two shots to spare at the end of his final round on Sunday because a not-so-funny thing happened to the eight-time PGA Tour winner on his way to donning that hideous plaid jacket given to the winner of the Crowne Plaza Invitational.
Johnson splashed out of a green-side bunker on 18, marked his ball and moved it to make way for playing partner Jason Dufner’s putt. He then made his par putt to win the Texas tourney by three. Except for one thing: he forgot to move his marker back before holing his putt, which he learned from a tour official as he walked off the green.
"I moved my mark, but I did not move it back," Johnson told reporters about his clear breach of Rule 20-7 of the Rules of Golf. "I told Damon [Green, his caddie] on the five- or six-footer that I just wanted to hit a great putt. I hit a great putt. I guess fortunately it went in. I don't know if I would have missed it, it probably would have been ... I don't know what would have happened. I just feel very lucky. That's all.”
Apparently, the mistake on the green was not Johnson’s only faux pas on the final hole at Colonial Country Club. He also admitted that he hit out of turn off the tee but that “Fortunately, Dufner is forgiving.”
Also fortuitous was Johnson’s learning of his error before signing his scorecard and facing disqualification for attesting to a faulty score.
“Let's say, I did move it back, and I thought I didn't,” Johnson hypothesized about what could have been. “It's on tape, so they would have said something. We are in constant conversation with [tour rules official] Mark Russell and the guys with CBS; they would have said something ... I thought about it, if I signed for a six, I still take six, even though I made a four.
“I guess bottom line is it doesn't matter,” Johnson concluded. “I was lucky.”
Even with the penalty, Johnson’s 12-under 268 was good enough for a one-shot win over Dufner, who became the most recent player unable to match Tiger Woods’ 2009 consecutive wins streak. Johnson dedicated his victory to Green’s father, who died 10 days earlier from stomach cancer at the age of 88.
“I think [Green’s] the one that deserves this one more than I do,” said Johnson. “His courage and certainly his strength to get through last week, and then work and work well this week, stay focused somehow. That's really commendable, and I feel lucky to have him.
“It's been nine and a half years,” Johnson said of his partnership with Green. “I'm hoping there is at least nine and a half more with him because he is very instrumental on what I'm trying to do. What we are trying to do. We are a team.”
At the time of the violation, Green was raking the bunker and missed what transpired on the green.
"He didn't even see me move [my mark]," Johnson said. "If he would have [seen] me move it, he's in-tune enough to say something."
Dufner, asked about the mishap on the 18th green, said he was just trying to get out of the way for Johnson’s winning putt and was unaware that his opponent forgot to return his marker to its original position.
“Sometimes guys say something about moving it back here and there. It's a courtesy that happens out here occasionally,” Dufner said. “But in that moment, to be honest with you, I wasn't thinking about him moving his coin back. I didn't even realize that he hadn't moved his coin back until I got in the scorer trailer and they informed me that he hadn't.”
All Johnson could do was heave a sigh of relief.
“There are a number of adjectives that I'm calling myself right now,” he said, “and lucky is the biggest one I can think of."