Zach Johnson, who picked up in 2014 where he left off in 2013 -- by winning a golf tournament -- can not only beat Tiger Woods at his own tournament but his caddie says he can go toe-to-toe (or, to be precise, another part of the male anatomy) with the world No. 1 and anyone else on the PGA Tour.
"He's got the biggest pair out here. Him and Tiger," Damon Green told Alan Shipnuck after Johnson beat 2013 Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth by one shot on Monday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. "He's not afraid of being in the lead, he thrives on it. A lot of guys don't like being in the lead, they can't stomach it. But he's got a cast-iron stomach. Man, he's solid."
ZJ, who prior to last week’s event boosted NBA superstar but golfer sub-ordinaire LeBron James as the probable 2014 player of the year, made a strong argument, with the season in its infancy, for his own PoY candidacy after a bogey-free, 7-under 66 final round. After a disappointing 74 on Sunday, the five-foot, 10-inch Drake University grad rebounded in what has become Johnsonian fashion, getting to 19-under for the tourney.
In doing so, he may not have out-slugged the defending champion and the other half of the Johnson & Johnson duo, Dustin, but he took him and the rest of the stellar 30-player field apart with surgical precision.
For sure, the not-even-six-foot 2007 Masters champ does not possess the explosive dynamism of his boom-baby brethren (he was 153rd in driving distance in 2013), but his pinpoint precision and artistry around the greens make up for what he lacks off the tee. Johnson kick-started his title-winning round with a chip-in on No. 2 and went on to can seven birdies and find more than 83 percent of fairways in regulation, almost 78 percent of greens, and finish 17th in strokes gained-putting, according to Alex Miceli.
All of that followed a dramatic playoff at last month’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in which he prevailed over Woods, who could only smirk in knowing respect for Johnson’s hole-out for par on the final hole of regulation following an uncharacteristic shank into the hazard that seemed to sew up the win for the tourney host.
The Sherwood outcome may not go down as an official W, but, as Shipnuck noted after Johnson earned a spot at next year’s winners-only Hawaiian competition, the vertically challenged Iowan has entered elite company. With 11 tour wins, Johnson sits behind only Tiger, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Davis Love, and Jim Furyk for most career trophies among active players.
Johnson, who actually took a few moments to sit on a slope and soak in the spectacular ocean view during Monday’s finale, was as relaxed as a player fortunate enough to ply his skills in such luxurious splendor ought to be. Perhaps it has something to do with knowing he has what it takes to take out the best golfer of his, and one could certainly argue, any generation.
"Beating Tiger Woods makes you feel a little more comfortable, I would think," Green told Shipnuck.
"Anytime you beat the No. 1 player in the world or one of the best players to ever play ... confidence comes from it," he told reporters after his victory. "Hopefully it breeds it and it breeds momentum."
The bantamweight golfer his father calls "the Tiger Woods of Iowa" will try to go 2-for-2 in 2014 when he takes his short game and momentum over to Honolulu for this week’s Sony Open.