For all those wondering what it would take to produce an emotional response from the unflappable Dustin Johnson, the answer came Sunday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club. Johnson shot a final-round 4-under-par 68 that gave him the all-time Masters scoring record at 20-under 268 and a five-stroke victory over Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im, leading to tears of joy.
He shared an emotional hug with brother and caddie Austin, and wife Paulina Gretzky, who brushed back tears of her own when she hugged her husband behind the 18th green. When he stopped for a post-round television interview, Johnson choked up.
"It’s a dream come true," he said. "As a kid, I always dreamed about being a Masters champion." Fighting to maintain his composure as tears welled, Johnson said, "It’s hard to talk . . . I’ve never had this much trouble gathering myself. On the golf course, I’m pretty good at it. Out here, I’m not . . . It’s hard to talk."
This marked the fifth time Johnson held the 54-hold lead at a major championship, but it was the first time he ever held on to win. It was his second major title along with the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, and his final score broke the previous record of 18 under set by Tiger Woods in 1997 and matched by Jordan Spieth in 2015.
Johnson began the round with a four-stroke lead but saw it slip to a single stroke ahead of playing partner Im after bogeys at Nos. 4 and 5. But he bounced back with a birdie at the par-3 sixth hole and played his final 13 holes in 5 under. Johnson reached the back nine with a two-stroke lead over Smith, playing one group ahead, and pulled away from there with the aid of three straight birdies at Nos. 13, 14 and 15.
Describing the impact of the birdie at No. 6 that got him going, Johnson said, "That obviously kind of helped the nerves quite a bit. From there on out, I felt I played really solid. Drove it really well, hit a lot of quality iron shots, gave myself a lot of looks at birdies and played really good from there to the house."
After hitting the green with his tee shot at the windy par-3 12th, where defending champion Woods took a 10, Johnson said, "I felt I could breathe a little bit, and I had a really good stretch at 13, 14 and 15."
Smith spent most of his time scrambling on the back nine and was unable to mount a charge, but his 69 made the Australian the first player in the 84-year history of the tournament to shoot four rounds in the 60s.
"It would have been cool to do that and win," he said. "I’d take 15 under around here the rest of my career, and I might win a couple . . . I thought I’d have a decent shot if I got to Dustin’s score at the start of the day, 16 under.
"I knew I had to put the pressure on early. I got out of the gates pretty good, and DJ was just too good at the end."
Korean Im was making his Masters debut and also shot a final-round 69 to tie with Smith. But Im admitted he basically was a spectator on the back nine to Johnson’s display of power and precision.
"Dustin definitely plays at another level," Im said. "I’ve played with him a couple of times, and his accuracy off the tee is unbelievable to watch."
The victory was world No. 1 Johnson’s third in his past eight appearances and the 24th of his career, but he began the day knowing there were questions about his ability to close in major championships. In fact, he had the 54-hole lead at the PGA in August but finished second. So, Johnson described his final round at the Masters as "an internal battle" all day.
"I proved that I can get it done on Sunday with the lead at a major, especially in tough conditions," he said. "I proved to myself that I do have it . . . There [were] doubts in my mind just because I had been there. I’m in this position a lot of times. Like, when am I going to have the lead and finish off a major? For me, it definitely proved I could do it."
Winning the Masters had special significance to Johnson because he grew up in nearby Columbia, South Carolina, as the son of a golf professional. "Growing up, it was putts to win the Masters," he said. "Or hitting chip shots, it was always to win Augusta. Especially because I grew up so close to here, about an hour and 10 minutes away.
"As a kid you dream of playing in the Masters and dream about putting on the green jacket. I still kind of think it’s a dream, but hopefully, hopefully, it’s not."
No Masters champion ever did it better for real.
DJ’s GREATEST HITS
Lowest Masters score ever.
Consecutive rounds under par at the Masters, breaking Tiger Woods’ record of 10.
Largest margin of victory at Masters since Woods in 1997 (12).
Fewest bogeys by a Masters winner.