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The Open 2015: Zach Johnson wins three-man Championship play-off to become a Major winner again after eight years

By Kevin Garside

Published 21/07/2015

Champion: Zach Johnson with the Claret Jug
Champion: Zach Johnson with the Claret Jug
Punch of delight: Zach Johnson holes a vital putt on his way to Open glory
Game up: Louis Oosthuizen misses his birdie put on the 76th
Over and out: Mark Leishman walks over the Swilcan Bridge

Zach was not the Johnson any envisaged holding the Claret Jug. After five days and 76 holes the wiry grinder from Iowa proved the value of an iron psyche over prodigious strength.

As big Dustin faded increasingly from view at the business end of the tournament, the lesser Johnson advanced by stealth before emerging into the arc lights on the final evening to win the Open Championship.

It required a play-off to do it, and a nervy finale as he waited for Louis Oosthuizen to strike the birdie putt that would have meant a fifth extra hole.

The 2010 champion looked to have sent the ball along the right line, but it drifted left instead of breaking right. St Andrews erupted, the man who ultimately wanted it most collapsed in tears, his second major meaning every bit as much as the first, the Masters eight years ago.

The crowd had flocked to see history made, to cheer Jordan Spieth to his third major in a row. He was in it with two holes to play, a characteristic 50-footer at the 16th drawing him level with Marc Leishman and Johnson on 15 under par. The galleries went bananas. A birdie at either of the closing two holes would have seen him advance towards nirvana. It was not to be, the Road Hole taking him down.

It was left to Oosthuizen, in the final group alongside Sunday's hero, Irish amateur Paul Dunne, who went to his doom with a bogey bogey start, to provide a little late excitement with a birdie at the last to advance into the three-man shootout.

Poor Leishman. He made only one bad stoke all day, finding sand at the 16th green with his approach. The resultant bogey dropped him into the play-off zone and he never got going again.

Johnson opened with birdies at the first and second, to move one clear of Oosthuizen, who birdied the first.

All three bogeyed the monster that the Road Hole had become. When Johnson tapped in for his par at the last it was all on Oosthuizen. This was to be no 2010 repeat.

St Andrews might not have identified the most fancied runner but over a week of trying weather none could argue with the pedigree of the perfomer on the final day. The most open championship in years was there to be won and Johnson raised his hand the highest.

People's Monday began as an oxymoron, marked by the absence of homo sapiens about the Old Course save for the players and caddies, plus Ivor Robson, of course, calling them to order for the last time.

The grim Scottish summer was again unsympathetic, throwing up another shade of grey but it was entirely without responsibility for the dense rumble that rolled across the morning like thunder. That would be the sound of suitcases being towed to the relevant means of conveyance by all those who could not stay for the climax.

Once again a game of manners and respect revealed its remarkable capacity for throwing up a dogfight. With 10 players within three of the lead as the back nine unfolded there was barely space to breath. Any mistake could be fatal, yet to play conservative golf on the toughest stretch of the course was not an option.

Sergio Garcia was the first of the poster boys to give way with a bogey at the 12th while just one behind the leaders. Another at the 13th proved fatal. Adam Scott was the next to fall away, a bogey at the 14th followed immediately by another, lipping out from two feet. Five shots would go over the closing five holes, an ugly reprise of his experience three years ago when he blew a four-shot lead with four to play at Royal Lytham to gift Ernie Els the crown.

Contrast that with Spieth, for whom a dropped shot is a call to arms and a moment of panic for rivals who know what's coming next. And so the double bogey at the par-three eighth was answered with birdies at thOver and out: Mark Leishman walks over the Swilcan Bridgee next two holes, the first from 20 feet, and the second from a more mundane 12 feet.

Spieth did not take a backward step, the 50-footer at 16 when he needed to make a birdie to reach the clubhouse mark of 15 under a perfect example of his mettle. He arrived at the Road Hole in the toughest conditions of the day, the wind blowing nasty squalls into the face.

Only Billy Horschel got the better of the 17th yesterday. Spieth was among the 53 to bogey or worse. But what an ovation down the last. To fall short by just one stroke in this precinct was no failure.

Johnson showed remarkable fortitude to make the play-off after a truly ugly experience at 17, catching his approach fat and advancing his ball no more than 100 yards. But he gave himself a chance of par with a refined wedge to 10 feet, too far on this occasion but there was always the last.

What a picture he looked when his 20-foot birdie putt arrowed into the cup, down on his haunches, hand curled into a fist, the prelude to greater glory four holes hence.

Belfast Telegraph

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