It was the longest British Open ever but after five days and a four-hole playoff, Zach Johnson is your winner of the 144th Open Championship at St. Andrews. Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman needed the aggregate playoff to decide it, and the ball-striking ace from Iowa emerged with his second major championship.
Johnson won the 2007 Masters but still remains one of the more under-appreciated PGA Tour players despite his consistent success over the years. He doesn't hit it very far and isn't as appealing to promote, but he entered the tournament with 27 professional wins, 11 PGA Tour titles and that green jacket. Now he's got a Claret Jug and a potential spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The playoff became a two-man battle when Leishman bogeyed the first while Johnson and Oosthuizen opened with birdies. Johnson backed up his birdie on the first playoff hole with another at the second. He opened the door for Oosthuizen with a poor second shot at the 17th -- the playoff's third hole -- but the two smashed when both made bogey. That was Oosthuizen's best opportunity to catch up but he burned the edge on short putt that would have pulled him even going to the 18th. He had another run at birdie at the 18th, but again had the ball touch the edge of the cup to end it.
The final round started as a manic birdiefest with constant leaderboard movement. After that disastrous Saturday when the wind made conditions unplayable, the final 36 holes were fairly tame. St. Andrews has been uncharacteristically green and soft all week, so the greens are receptive to all these short irons and wedges the players are hitting. If the wind is down, and it was not as severe over the last 36 holes, then the course is short enough to be carved up by the modern Tour pros.
Johnson was the early pacesetter, taking the clubhouse lead at 15-under after teeing off two hours before the final pairing. Johnson has said before that St. Andrews and The Open just do not suit his game and he's the kind of short hitter that this course is supposed to eliminate. But he birdied five of his first nine holes to go out in 31 and shoot to the top of the leaderboard. The inward nine was much more difficult with the wind for Johnson, but after a bogey at the Road Hole, he poured in a long birdie putt to get safely in the house. Damon Green, his caddie, performed his patented dance to celebrate the early number.
Leishman matched Johnson a few groups later when he posted 15-under 273. It was an amazing final 36 holes for Leishman, who started Sunday's round in a tie for 50th place. The third-round 64 rocketed him up the leaderboard and into the mix for Sunday, where he kept it rolling and was on top of the leaderboard, often solo, for much of the back nine. In April, Leishman had to withdraw from the Masters when his wife went into toxic shock syndrome. He flew back to Virginia to be with her and their boys, and was told that she had a less than five percent chance at survival. She pulled through and Leishman eventually got back on Tour. Having him in the hunt and in the playoff, especially after he started the final 36 holes so far down the leaderboard, was an incredible story.
The final man to get in the four-hole aggregate playoff was Oosthuizen, the "defending" champion at St. Andrews. Oosthuizen caught the fortunate side of the draw back in 2010 and rolled to a seven-shot laugher of a win for his first major at St. Andrews. In the intervening years, he's dealt with all manner of injuries that have prevented him from adding another major. Still, when healthy, close watchers of the game insist he has the sweetest swing in golf.
Oosty started the final round in the final pairing with amateur Paul Dunne and spent much of it under the radar as fireworks exploded in front him. He made a clutch par-saving putt at the extremely difficult Road Hole and stuffed a wedge close at the 18th green to set up a birdie that gave him the last invite to the playoff party.
SB Nation video archives: Urban golfing with a U.S. Open champ (2012)