It's a new year, but the result is the same. Zach Johnson wiped out a loaded leaderboard at Kapalua on Monday night to pick up right where he left off in December.
Johnson is probably the most consistent American golfer in the world, playing his way to the first page of the leaderboard on almost a weekly basis. He started the week with seven top 10s in his last 10 events, his last appearance at a sanctioned PGA Tour event yielding yet another win when he went head-to-head with host Tiger Woods at the World Challenge. That form continued to start the 2014 season, and Johnson pulled away from some talented colleagues during a dazzling final round of 66, matching Billy Horschel for the low mark of the day.
Johnson did most of his work on Monday with his wedges, leaving other top names such as Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, and Adam Scott no opening to match him. The Iowan shot a disappointing 1-over 74 in the third round on Sunday, coming back to the field, but that was just a momentary bump on his way to the victory. He's not the longest hitter, but he rarely makes mistakes and is one of the best ball strikers in the world. The wedges were flawless on Monday, and that locked up a victory at a course where Johnson has historically struggled.
Johnson should be a force for the rest of the season, particularly through the Masters. Skeptical of his bona fides and place in the game these days? Here's Justin Ray of ESPN with the startling company that Zach has joined with the win:
For a limited field event and a tournament without Tiger and Phil, the Hyundai TOC certainly delivered one of the deeper leaderboards you'll see on Tour. Spieth, playing in the final pairing alongside Simpson, made a strong bid to become the youngest ever to win at Kapalua (he would have beat Tiger's record by a year). He also would have been the first 20-year-old multiple PGA Tour winner in more than 80 years, and the third-youngest ever with more than one win.
Spieth's miraculous chip-in spoiled Johnson's back-to-back attempt at the John Deere in July, when he edged Johnson to earn his full-time card and ignite his rookie of the year season. It's clear the Dallas phenom will continue to contend in his second year on Tour and he's probably ready to make a run at all the biggest events, including the majors. Golf would appear to have it's next great American star.
The scenery of Kapalua is typically reason alone to tune in and watch the opener, but this weekend provided one of the better races with all the big names factoring. It's good to be off and running in 2014, and the showing this week from some important names could mean we're in for a huge year. Here's your final board from Maui:
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