With defending champ Dustin Johnson, Masters champ Adam Scott, PGA Champ Jason Dufner and former U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson—all long hitters—in a field of winners, the first name to pop into your mind as the potential winner of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions was probably not Zach Johnson. But defying odds and battling against them is what guys like Zach Johnson are all about. He's the 10" high, wire-haired, ankle-biting terrier who snacks on postmen. He's the "go" in the Caddyshack gopher. You can try to kick him off, blow him up and drown him, but he just can't be stopped.
It may have been a blessing for him that he was paired with Dustin Johnson in the final round. It may have been even better that he was two strokes behind the trio of Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson after three rounds because eight of Johnson's 11 victories have been come-from-behind wins.
The struggle to tie and pull ahead allowed his competitive juices to flow, and if we've learned one thing about Zach Johnson, it's that he doesn't back down. He looks your ankle square in the eye and bites it.
"I've always liked the teams and the individuals that are kind of coming from behind, that are not supposed to win," Zach Johnson said about his attitude. "The competitive aspects of sport that really drive me are those situations where Wichita State makes the final four, you know? George Mason and Butler almost win a national title. I love that kind of stuff. I'm not a fan of them, but you catch my drift. I love seeing the underdogs. I'm not saying I'm always an underdog, but I kind of feel like it."
Yeah. Being 50 yards behind on nearly every drive will do that.
The Kapalua Plantation Course, with its tremendously lengthy, downhill holes, is a little more than 7400 yards. Zach Johnson has a better chance when the course is Colonial or Harbour Town—shorter and tighter. The main reason is that he has a driving distance overage of 2780 yards—Annika Sorenstam distance—compared to Dustin Johnson, whose average is 297.
DJ pounded several drives more than 350. But that didn't stop ZJ.
"What I've learned in the times that I haven't come through and I'm in contention, if you will, I'm not doing what I was doing to get into contention," Johnson said, which seems more convoluted than he meant it to be. "I felt like the back nine today was not any different than my back nine on Thursday. I felt very natural, felt very comfortable. I felt at peace out there. There was nothing more than just hitting shots. It felt great."
When DJ made bogey on the first two holes, if you're ZJ, you have to say it was a sign, even though he did not say that. What he said is that the last few holes make or break any victory.
"Being in contention is not even necessarily the back nine, but I'd say the last four to six holes, you know, when you're two back, two up, what have you, that's being in contention because so much is going to happen," he explained.
In his last two tournaments, Zach Johnson has taken on the game's big names and won. He beat Tiger Woods at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge and now Simpson and DJ at Kapalua.
While we weren't looking, ZJ was amassing titles. Few players have have more PGA Tour victories. Only 10 current PGA Tour players surpass his total: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, David Duval, David Toms, Justin Leonard and Steve Stricker. All of them are older.
When it came to those final six holes, Jordan Spieth, the next big thing in golf, put up a good fight, but a bobble near the end, where he chipped and had the ball roll back to his feet, cost him a stroke he could not afford. He pressed on and birdied the 17th and 18th, but he came up one shot short. Webb Simpson fired a final round 70 and tied for third with Kevin Streelman. DJ posted a disappointing 73. In the end it was the underdog, the determined fighter from Iowa and now Sea Island, who had the best score.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.