Johnson wins without hitting final shot
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Dustin Johnson walked out the door and into the rain Monday morning, still expecting to show up on the first tee with a four-shot lead to play the final round at Pebble Beach.
He won not with a big drive or a clutch putt, rather a phone call.
"It was Michael Letzig, one of my buddies out here," Johnson said. "I was walking out the door to go have breakfast. He called to congratulate me and I didn't know what he was talking about."
Some 40 hours after hitting his last shot of the tournament, Johnson won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am when rain washed out the final round for the second straight day. Pebble Beach received nearly 11/2; inches of rain, enough to create a tiny river in one fairway and produce puddles on most of the greens. It was the first rain-shortened tournament on the PGA Tour in nearly three years, and the first 54-hole event at Pebble Beach since the late Payne Stewart also hit the winning shot on Saturday in 1999.
And it was historic for at least one reason.
"I've never won a tournament in tennis shoes," said Johnson, who came to the course to collect his trophy, thank the rain-soaked volunteers and grasp the timing of his great week, even if he only got in three rounds.
The victory was the second in his last nine starts, and it puts him in the conversation with a growing cast of rising stars. The 24-year-old Johnson joins Anthony Kim as the only players under 25 with multiple PGA Tour victories.
He moved up to No. 45 in the world, putting him into the 64-man field at the Accenture Match Play Championship next week. More importantly — at least for a guy who grew up less than an hour away from Augusta National — it earned Johnson a trip to the Masters. He has had a few offers to play the course, but each time turned it down.
"I just really wanted to be in the tournament before I went and played it," he said.
Johnson finished at 15-under 201 and earned $1.098 million. The winning round came at Poppy Hills on Saturday, when Johnson overpowered the five par 5s with birdies on all of them — he had three eagle attempts — and shot a 67. That gave him a four-shot lead over Mike Weir, who would have been playing in the final group at Pebble for the second time in four years.
None of this would have seemed possible to Johnson eight years ago.
According to a story published two weeks ago in Golf World magazine, Johnson was suspended from his high school golf team for skipping classes as he struggled to cope with his parents' divorce.
Then came an incident that nearly cost him much more.
Intimidated by Steve Gillian, a menacing older brother of one of his friends, Johnson was among five kids involved in the break-in of a house, where someone took a gun. Johnson says he stayed in the car during the burglary, but he was there. According to appellate court documents, Johnson then was persuaded, reluctantly, to buy bullets for the gun.
Later that month in 2001, Gillian was charged with murder after shooting the victim multiple times in the head. Because of the loose connection to the crime, Johnson had to pay restitution for the theft and agree to testify at the murder trail.
Gillian is serving life without parole.
"I always knew I wanted to play on the PGA Tour," Johnson said. "Eight years ago, however long ago that was, I couldn't see myself being here. But after I got through all that stuff, I went on to play golf at Coastal Carolina. And coach (Allen) Terrell helped me a bunch."
The victory at Pebble comes nearly three weeks after the Probation, Pardon and Parole Services Board of South Carolina granted Johnson a full pardon relating to his guilty plea in the second-degree burglary case.
And with his second tour victory, Johnson is ready to see how far he can go.
It took Johnson only 36 starts to record his second tour victory, compared with 42 tournaments for Kim and 87 for Camilo Villegas.
"Obviously, I've proved myself to be just as good as they are," Johnson said. "Anthony is a great player. He's a good friend of mine, and he's done great things in the last two years. Just to be mentioned with them is an honor. I'm just looking forward to the rest of the year and proving myself a little more."
For all the dramatic scenery and rich history at Pebble Beach, this was among the more anticlimactic wins.
Johnson won at Turning Stone last October with birdies on the last two holes. This time, he won on his way to breakfast.
It was the sixth time in the last 50 years that rain forced a 54-hole tournament at Pebble Beach, and that doesn't include 1996 when the tournament was canceled. Stewart had a one-shot lead in 1999 when rain washed out the final round Sunday, and the forecast was so ominous that tour officials called it off that day.
"A win is a win," Johnson said. "Obviously, I would have liked to have played either yesterday or today. Unfortunately, the weather wouldn't allow it. But I'm pleased with my play the first three rounds. I'm very confident in myself and what I can do."