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AUGUSTA, Ga. - Before he got halfway through his final round at the Masters Sunday, Zach Johnson's name showed up on the giant hand-operated leader boards populating the Augusta National course.
It had been a long time since that happened on a Sunday here. Since the last time he won it, actually, in 2007.
The Cedar Rapids native stayed on those big boards for the rest of the day. His second-straight 4-under par 68 gave him a 72-hole total of 8-under 280 and a tie for ninth-place. His previous-best finish here since his championship was a tie for 20th in 2008.
When Johnson won in '07, it was cold, windy and bone-dry, rare Masters conditions that helped negate some of the longer-hitters' advantages over him. But it was warm and humid all four days this year, and wind was never a factor.
'I don't know if the conditions matter as much as I once probably thought,” Johnson said. ' I think I can play it when it's a windchill of 45 to 50 and I can play it when it's 75 to 85.”
It's stating the obvious given his score, but Johnson played very well. Only three players - tourney-champion wunderkind Jordan Spieth not among them - scored better than Johnson's 68-68 on the weekend. He was 12-under over his last 45 holes, which was downright Spiethian.
It was easy to forget Johnson had been in danger Friday of missing the 36-hole cut here for the second-straight year.
'I made the turn on Friday 4-over par for the tournament,” he said after his round. 'And you know the old cliches, you don't give up, you don't quit. And lo and behold, I'm going to come pretty close to getting a Top Ten.”
He did get it, and it was worth $270,000 Tying for ninth gave Johnson his seventh career Top Ten in a major tournament. It also served notice he was right last week when he said his game was coming along nicely and it was a matter of time until we saw the proof.
What's perhaps most remembered about Johnson's Masters win of eight years ago is how he never went for the green of a par-5 in two shots, yet was 11-under over those 16 holes because of sensational wedge play. But the signature moment of his round Sunday was when he went for the green on his second shot at the 570-yard No. 8 when he was 260 yards from the pin, and left the shot 23 feet from the cup.
'It's playing 260 uphill,” said Johnson. 'I hammered it. But the wind, everything was just in my favor there.”
Then he bombed in the putt for his first eagle ever at the hole, and second in 11 years of playing this tourney.
''That was a putt that I'm just trying to get to a 3-foot radius,” he said.
He was the only player of the 55 here who eagled that hole Sunday. The putt was one of several beauties, some for birdies, some to save pars. Even his lone bogey, at 18, was capped by an 11-foot putt that prevented a deflating double-bogey for a conclusion.
Putting has long considered a Johnson staple, but it wasn't wonderful last year and hadn't been so good recently. At the Texas Open two weeks earlier, 'I was No. 1 in ball-striking. I think I led tee to green, strokes gained and ball striking, 1 or 2 in both. And I was second-to-last in putting. '
And, he had never really putted really well here since his 2007 victory. But his putting Sunday, Johnson conceded, 'was tremendous.”
He said he had never doubted he would again return to a Masters leaderboard on a Sunday afternoon.
'I knew it was a matter of time,” Johnson said. 'I'm comfortable with these greens, I'm comfortable with my reads. It's one thing to see it, it's one thing to understand the speed and understand where the grain takes it and where everything goes, but it's another to execute it. And this week, the last, oh, let me think, 45 holes, it was really, really good.
'I think that there's more in there. I've just got to keep waiting for it. Because patience and perseverance is really what's going to take me further.”
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