Golf Tidbits: Underdog status fits Johnson

Philadelphia, PA ( - He wasn't supposed to be able to win the Masters. He isn't long enough to compete with the bombers at Kapalua. But none of that matters to Zach Johnson.

The 37-year-old Iowan just sticks to his game. Johnson made just a single eagle at Kapalua, a course with five par-5s.

However, Johnson had three rounds in which he carded seven birdies. The last of those three rounds was the final round, and those birdies helped him rally to win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Monday.

"I just picked it apart. I didn't deviate from anything I normally do on a golf course. It's fairways and greens for me," Johnson explained.

And the numbers bare that out. He was second in total putts with 114 and shared third place in fairways hit at 83.3 percent, but was just 17th (out of 30 players) in greens in regulation at 77.8 percent.

The victory was Johnson's 11th on the PGA Tour. Remarkably, eight have been in come-from-behind fashion.

"I'm just kind of comfortable there," Johnson said of battling from behind in the final round.

Not only is Johnson comfortable when trailing, he is more than capable of going low in the final round.

Dating to the final round of last year's Travelers Championship, Johnson has now shot in the 60s in 10 of his last 12 final rounds on the PGA Tour. Add in Tiger Woods' offseason event, and those numbers move to 11 of 13. He also rallied to beat Woods in the final round of that event.

In the two final rounds not in the 60s, Johnson shot par both times - 70 at the Travelers and 72 at the British Open. Those are the two outliers as he has averaged 67.67 in those 12 final rounds.

With the new 2013-14 wrap-around schedule, Johnson ranks 11th in final round scoring in just two events. In the 2013 season, he ended 35th with a 70.37 final round scoring average. Only five of the 34 players ahead of Johnson played more final rounds than he did.

With numbers like that, one may wonder why Johnson shouldn't have been able to win the Masters or win at Kapalua. As good as his scoring numbers are, it is Johnson's driving that puts him behind the 8-ball.

Though he finished eighth in driving accuracy in 2013, he ended 153rd on the PGA Tour in driving distance. Johnson averaged 278.8 yards off the tee, while tour leader Luke List averaged 306.3 yards per tee shot.

The 27.5-yard difference equates to a two-to-three club difference for approach shots. It's much easier to hit 8- and 9-irons into greens versus 5- or 6- irons.

From 175 to 200 yards out, Johnson ended last season 140th in greens in regulation (51.53 percent), while List was 173rd (46.54 percent). If Johnson could drive it as far as List and get within 125 to 150 yards of the green, Johnson's average greens in regulation improved to 78.87 (second-best on tour), versus List's numbers of 63.91 percent, which ranked him 173rd.

Johnson clearly has the advantage over List with his iron game, and that has helped him win 11 times, while List, who is 10 years younger, continues to fight for his first tour win.

Now in his 11th full season on the PGA Tour, Johnson is unlikely to make up much of that 27.9-yard difference off the tee. However, that doesn't matter to him.

If he keep hitting fairways and greens, he'll have a chance to win most weeks. Sounds like a boring game Johnson plays. It might be, but it also has gotten him 11 PGA Tour wins and earned him over $31.5 million for his career.

Where can I sign up for that boring game?


From no tour status to Presidents Cup team member and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. That's the shortest possible recap to Jordan Spieth's 2013 season.

In his first start of 2014, Spieth was out to prove none of that was a fluke.

Spieth, 20, was looking to break Tiger Woods' record for being the youngest winner in event history at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Though that didn't happen, Spieth once again proved he belongs in the conversation among the best in the world.

He entered the 2014 season ranked 22nd in the world, and improved to 17th with his runner-up finish at Kapalua.

Zach Johnson might have won the first event of the new year, but Spieth posted some impressive numbers himself.

Spieth had the fewest bogeys (two) in the field, was second in the field in pars and shared second in greens in regulation. He also was fourth in strokes gained putting and eighth in driving distance.

After being selected as a captains pick for the Presidents Cup last year, Spieth has already moved to 14th on the Ryder Cup points list. Nine of the 13 players ahead of him have played more events, so as those numbers even out, you can expect to see Spieth play his way onto that team.

Spieth isn't the second-coming of Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, but in just 25 professional starts on the PGA Tour, he has proven he will be a force to be reckon with for years to come.


* With the start of the new year comes new contracts for players and sponsors. The biggest equipment change belongs to Ernie Els, who ended a long relationship with Callaway to move to Adams.

* Sure it was the first event of 2014, but U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson had to be pleased to see potential Ryder Cup players Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson all finish in the top 10 at Kapalua.