Zach Johnson held off third-round leader Jason Dufner on Sunday to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial by one shot. Dufner began the final round with a one-shot lead but his erratic driving undid his chance at winning back-to-back TOUR events as he hit only 21% of the fairways on Sunday. Johnson made the final hole interesting by absorbing a two-shot penalty for not properly replacing his ball on the putting green but his final round 72 (two-over) on Sunday was two-shots better than Dufner’s closing 74. Johnson completed his victory by carding 12-under 268 to add his name to the “Winner’s Wall” for the second time in three seasons at Colonial Country Club. “Two Gloves” Tommy Gainey finished third with a total score of 273. Jim Furyk was fourth at 274. Chirs Kirk, Harris English, Rickie Fowler, John Huh and Ryan Palmer all shared fifth-place with 275. U.S.A on Memorial Day weekend!
The tournament-record holder at Colonial (2010, 21-under-par 259) was up to his old tricks again this week at “Hogan’s Alley” just outside of Fort Worth, Texas. The usually accurate ball-striker had to rely on his flat-stick this week to claim his eighth-career win and second at Colonial. His driver and iron play (T26 fairways; T37 GIR) weren’t as solid as usually expected from Johnson but his steely nerves on the green were the difference this week. Johnson finished the week first in putts per round, second in putts per GIR and third in strokes gained-putting. Those numbers led to 19 birdies on the week that was third-best overall. The “Horrible Horseshoe”, holes three, four and five, were tamed by Johnson to the tune of one-under on the week. This steady play led to a Sunday “match play” of sorts as Johnson and Dufner were seven and eight-shots, respectively, clear of the nearest competitors on the first tee on Sunday. Dufner was the first to blink on hole two as he made bogey and Johnson made birdie, switching their places on the leaderboard. As well as Dufner was playing Johnson knew he wasn’t going away and he didn’t. Birdies on five and six saw last week’s HP champion move back into the lead that he seemed to hold since Friday afternoon. Dufner finally blinked on hole nine as his tee shot found the water. Johnson made par and Dufner tallied a double which evened the “match” at the turn. Johnson’s birdie on 11 combined with Dufner’s bogey saw the Iowan take the lead for the first time on the back nine. Dufner’s triple-bogey seven on 15 saw Johnson take the lead for the final time as he rolled up his eighth-career victory. This was Johnson's second Tartan jacket and first victory since 2010 which was also at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
I think I was the only fantasy golf writer this week NOT to select Zach Johnson as the winner early last week. It’s easy to see why I was wrong. Johnson, before Sunday’s 72, had played 15-straight rounds under-par at Colonial, dating back to 2009. Johnson’s history at this event is even more impressive as he’s now hit the top 10 in four-consecutive starts and that includes two victories. Oh, and in his other three starts he’s never finished outside of the top 30. For those of you who read this column on a weekly basis, you know one of my favorite sayings is: “don’t over-think it”. I should have listened to my own advice! I’m glad you can’t hear what goes on between my ears most of the time anyhow but Zach Johnson has to be number one on your list for next year regardless of any stats or information. He is truly a “horse for course” at Colonial!
Johnson and Dufner have both had a interesting four-tournament stretch. Dufner gets the accolades because of his two victories, and rightly so, but Johnson has been performing at a high-level as well. In their last four starts, Johnson finished second (RBC Heritage), T69 (WFC), T2 (THE PLAYERS) and now a victory on Sunday. Dufner, as well all know, has been on fire as well winning at Zurich, T68 (THE PLAYERS), WIN (HP) and now second this week. That’s incredible play from both of these guys and Rickie Fowler (see below) is not too far behind! In a Ryder Cup year, it’s fantastic to see the U.S. hopefuls playing themselves into contention. You want guys that are hot and playing well and we saw three of them contending again this week. By the way, it’s impossible to root against Johnson or Dufner. They seem to be upstanding people with excellent golf games. Heck, Dufner was leaving Sunday night to fly to California to be a volunteer assistant for his Auburn Tigers as the compete in the NCAA tournament at Riviera. That’s pretty cool!
Déjà vu All Over Again?
In the last four events at Colonial, the 54-hole leader has failed to win the tournament. Both of Johnson’s wins here have been the come-from-behind version. Johnson becomes the 35th golfer in 65 events to win from behind on Sunday.
The last 13 of 22 players in stroke play events who led after 54 holes on Tour have lost the lead in the final round. Jason Dufner had won his last two events (Zurich, HP) when leading after 54 holes.
Johnson joins George McNeill (Puerto Rico Open) as the only first-round leaders to win on Sunday in 2012.
Johnson is now a perfect 13-for-13 in the cuts-made department in 2012.
The Red, White and Blue have now won nine of the last 10 FedExCup events dating back to Luke Donald’s win at TC. Carl Pettersson is the other “non-U.S.” winner as he captured the RBC Heritage.
With this victory, Zach Johnson earns $1,152,000 and 500 FedExCup points. Johnson is is now third in the FedExCup standings, trailing leader Jason Dufner.
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 23 tournaments in 2012 the “Young” versus “Old” has seen the “Middle” take over as Zach Johnson hits the board for the not-too-old and not-too-young. The “Middle” guys now have the lead versus “Young” guys 11-10 while the “Old” folks have two wins.
For the “Young”, in order of victory on the calendar, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan (29 at the time of his TWO wins), Rory McIlroy (now 23), Justin Rose (31) and Rickie Fowler (23) have cashed.
The “Middle” now has victories from Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner (35) TWICE and now Zach Johnson (36) forces them into the season-long lead.
The “Old” guys that have hoisted the trophy are Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41). Mickelson has now won an event in nine-consecutive seasons on TOUR. He isn’t getting much help though!
Jason Dufner: The FedExCup leader will now have time to take a honeymoon and relax after his excellent run-of-play over the last five weeks. Dufner, as shown above, has had an incredible hot-streak and now will have time to reflect on his successes as he is not scheduled to make his next TOUR stop until the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco in June. The only “bad” start (T68 THE PLAYERS) followed the weekend after he got married. He had a pretty good excuse for not playing well yet still ground it out to make the cut. We’ve learned over the last few weeks that it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere anytime soon and this week he showed why. He was third GIR and 10th in strokes gained-putting. For a guy who admits he’s not the biggest fan of putting he keeps finding a way to get the ball in the hole. He has to be on your radar come June and for the foreseeable future. One thing: Is it really a big deal that he doesn’t have a nickname? Why force it or have a poll to decide? It’s all a bit silly if you ask me as he seems to portray the image of a guy who DOESN’T need a nickname! Let’s not over-think this one, folks.
Tommy Gainey: Raise your hand if you had “Two Gloves” on your radar this week. Now, keep your hand up if you are lying! In 16 events leading up to this week this season Gainey had missed the cut in half of those events and his best finish was T40 (WFC). He vaulted up the leaderboard by leading the field in strokes gained-putting and was T15 GIR. When Gainey gets his putter going he can get ultra-hot and that’s what he did this week in finishing second in birdies with 20. Nobody was catching Johnson and Dufner this week but Gainey’s game effort saw him capture third-place all by himself for his best finish since T3 (Timberlake) last October. Maybe this will be the start of his 2012 season. He’ll be on the radar in the next few weeks.
Jim Furyk: The only man in the field to fire in the 60’s for all four rounds found himself with a solo fourth-place finish on Sunday. The veteran’s accuracy off the tee and ball-striking is what drew me to him this week at Colonial but he ended up fourth in this two-horse race between Johnson and Dufner. Furyk led the field in GIR but his putter was the one club in his bag that held him back as he finished 50th in strokes gained-putting. Since missing the cut at the Honda Classic, Furyk has made seven cuts in a row and has finished in the top 26 in all seven outings. Five of his seven finishes have been in the top 11. Mr. Steady was just that this week as he is playing some excellent, if not winning, golf.
Rickie Fowler: Usually I list the order of finish verbatim off the PGATOUR.COM leaderboard but I am making an exception this week for Fowler. After missing the cut at RBC Heritage, Fowler has ran off a four-tournament streak similar to that of Dufner and Johnson. Fowler was T10 (Zurich), WIN (WFC), T2 (THE PLAYERS) and now T5 this week at Colonial. He’s been killing the ball with accuracy off the tee and has been hitting GIR with the best of him in his recent run-of-form. He has to be mentioned with Johnson, Dufner and even Kuchar as guys who are in the “auto-select” group as we move into the summer months. It took him a while to get comfy with the new driver but now that he has, whew! All style and no substance has given way to smashing four-straight top-10 finishes.
Chris Kirk: “The Captain” made his return to the top 10 for the first time since his T7 at the season-opener HTOC at Kapalua. His wife had baby and that will affect anybody, trust me, and his golf game suffered. In the 10 events he played after HTOC, Kirk never finished better than T38 and was cut three times. His four events leading into CPIC (Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial) were MC, MC, T57 and T51. He only made seven bogeys on the week as his putter, sixth in strokes gained-putting, was his saving grace. His two double-bogeys on Thursday could have ruined his mood but he toughed it out and finished T5. Kirk has now played CPIC twice and has finished T5 and T16 (2011). I always keep an eye on the guy who finishes with the low-round of the day as we go forward and Kirk has that honor with his 65 today.
Harris English: After his dismantling of Gleneagles (60-63) earlier this week in qualifying for The Open Championship, it looked as though he would continue his path of destruction at Colonial after his first round 65. Unfortunately for English all good things must slow down at some point at they did in rounds two and three (70-73). English has been in contention a handful of times already in 2012 on the weekend only to see his scores go the way of the warming temperatures. He showed you this weekend that he’s not a finished product and has room for growth after firing a final round 67 to finish T5. His Achilles Heel is the loose tee shot but he has no problem getting it forward. He was T4 GIR and T15 in strokes gained-putting so there is substance to his game. After his T8 (RBC Heritage) English has been struggling to find consistency as he placed T67 (VTO), MC (Zurich), 74th (WFC) and T64 (THE PLAYERS) in his previous four starts. Long-time readers of this column know I am high on this youngster but form IS form and all of us have to take that into consideration. Well done if you were the one to break him out of his funk this week!
John Huh: He was my first pick (10th overall) last week in my 14-man weekly draft (5 rounds). He WD Friday with a wrist problem. I left him off this week because I didn’t see or read anything good or bad about what went wrong last week or how it was going this week. Knowledge, or lack-there-of, is power. But, here’s what I do know: when healthy, Huh is legit. This was his fourth finish in the top-six in 2012. His formula is simple, really. Smash it down the middle (T1 driving accuracy) and hit as many greens as possible (T8 GIR). He had a chance of finishing third solo but he played the final five holes in three-over-par after a double, birdie and two bogeys. Glad to see your wrist is feeling fine, kid! GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
Ryan Palmer: Palmer continued his excellent four-tournament stretch as well this week finishing T5. This was Palmer’s third finish in the top five in his last four tournaments. He was T4 (Zurich), MC (THE PLAYERS), T9 (HP) and T5 here on Sunday. The Texas native and resident was a good play in Texas this year as he finished T21 (SHO), T32 (VTO), T9 (HP) and T5 (CPIC). In nine events where he’s made the cut in 2012, his worst two finishes are T55 (WMPO) and T32 (VTO). The normally-excellent putter was no different this week as he finished first in putts per GIR and second in putts per round. He needed everyone of them as he was T66 GIR.
Ben Crane: Crane’s solid tee ball (T19 driving distance; T18 driving accuracy) and his iron game (T8 GIR) helped vault him back into the top 10 for the first time since his solo-second finish at WMPO back in early February. The only “Golf Boy” not to win this year had cooled off after his fast start when he hit the top 10 three times in his first four outings of 2012. His 68-68 Saturday-Sunday looks like he may be rounding into form moving forward. In eight-career events at Colonial, Crane now has four finishes in the top 10. I’ll be writing that down for 2013.
Jonathan Byrd: In six outings at Colonial after his maiden T8 (2002) Byrd was MC five times and T51 in his other appearance. His recent form on TOUR was much better as he finished T9 (WFC) and T12 (THE PLAYERS) in his last two outings. Form over history was the play here as Byrd overcame a 72 on Thursday to play the final three rounds in five-under-par to T10. In his last 16 rounds, Byrd has only two rounds over-par so that’s an excellent sign moving forward.
Jonas Blixt: His inclusion in the top 15 this week was rewarded by a top 10 finish Sunday. I was worried that I might have been a week behind on Blixt but his excellent play carried on for another week. His driver didn’t help this week but his putter is where he makes his money. Blixt finished a respectable 23rd in strokes gained-putting yet was only T47 in putts per round. Since MC at VTO Blixt has blitzed his way to T13 (Zurich), T9 (WFC), T3 (HP) and T10 this week in his last four outings. John Huh maybe rookie of the year but this class seems to be getting deeper as the year continues.
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Matt Kuchar: THE PLAYERS champion and world No. 5 player continued his TOUR-leading run (19) of making the cut in finishing T26. Kuchar was a par-making machine this week but couldn’t find any Texas heat with his putter. His worst finish on TOUR this year is T44 (RBC Heritage) so there’s nothing to worry about here.
Hunter Mahan: The Texan began his Sunday in 16th place and ready to move on up. He made five bogeys (and zero birdies) in his first 15 holes on Sunday which knocked him down to T37 at the end of the day. The one concern you could have with Mahan this week is he only made eight birdies. The way I’ll make you feel better about his game is he made 54 pars, good for second on the week. Mahan was his consistent-accurate self off the tee and into greens but he got absolutely nothing out of his putter this week as he finished near the bottom in all three putting categories. Pars are excellent at the U.S. Open, though…
Sergio Garcia: The former champion actually had the putter working this week but it was his loose tee shots and irons which kept him out of the top 10. Garcia closed with 68 to finish T13 but was only T27 GIR for the week. In his last two appearances, the 2001 champ has finished T13 and T16 in 2011. Mark him down for next year if he returns!
Bill Haas: After thinking he was heading the right direction after a respectable T25 at THE PLAYERS, the frustrating Haas finished this week T55 after not breaking par in all four rounds. I have had Haas on the “fade” side of town for most of 2012 except for last week, of course. He finished the week T58 GIR and 49th in strokes gained-putting. I’ll need to see some more improvement before putting him back into action, especially in loaded-field events.
Nick Watney: Wow. He finished dead-last in the event of those who did not MDF. He finished dead-last in putts per round AND putts per GIR. He finished second-last in strokes gained-putting. He also led the field with five double-bogeys. His T8 at WFC feels like five years ago. I’m gone.
BONUS SECTION BABY!
Congrats to Luke Donald for smoking the field at the BMW Championships on the European Tour earlier on Sunday at Wenworth. Donald put on a clinic in running away from Paul Lawrie and Justin Rose to win by four shots in defending his championship. Donald joins Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie as the only players to defend at Wentworth. With his victory, Donald also regains the world No. 1 ranking. If Donald hits the ball anywhere near the fairway off the tee he’s almost guaranteed to hit the top 10. In his last three starts, that’s what he’s done, third (Zurich), sixth (THE PLAYERS) and now another win.
Former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy missed the cut for the second-consecutive tournament. For those of you scoring at home, Tiger Woods has never missed consecutive cuts as a pro and he’s 13 years older than McIlroy. We call that perspective. Here’s the good news for McIlroy fans: the last time McIlroy missed two in a row he went on to smoke the field at Quail Hollow for his first-career TOUR win. And he shot 62 on Sunday to win by forever. He’s 23. He’s growing and learning. He’s just not automatic.
Justin Rose continues his excellent 2012 as he finished T2. Rose tried to keep up with Donald in the final paring but ran out of gas on the inward nine holes. After finishing a quiet T51 at THE PLAYERS, Rose has bounced right back into the form that saw him hit the top 10 in four of 10 starts on TOUR this year.
Ernie Els wasn’t too thrilled about the condition of the course that he helped design and redesign over the weekend but he kept his cool and scored another top 10 in 2012 with a T7 finish. “The Big Easy” was the “The Big Upset” after his round on Saturday remarking in not-so-family-friendly terms that the course should have had more water on it. The groundskeepers listened and Els finished even-par 72 on Sunday to hit the top 10 for the fourth time in 2012.