AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – For many people 2020 will not be a year they remember fondly, but Masters champion Dustin Johnson will not be one of them.
COVID-19 has touched many lives, including Johnson’s after he was forced off the PGA Tour and into quarantine last month after testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
Yet that nightmare was overtaken by a childhood dream on Sunday as Johnson carded a final-round four-under-par 68 to clinch a five-stroke victory over Australian Cameron Smith and South Korean Im Sung-jae at Augusta National.
Growing up an hour away in Columbia, South Carolina, every putt Johnson would make around the practice green was to win the Masters.
Yet he could never have imagined his moment would come in November not April and the final shot would be greeted not by roars but barely audible applause from a handful of spectators allowed onto Augusta National due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I know 2020 has been a really strange year, but it’s been good to me,” smiled Johnson. “I’ve played some good golf.
“Obviously when it was cancelled in April, none of us knew if we were going to be able to play in it.
“Growing up, that was all it was, as a kid, you dream of playing in the Masters, and dream about putting on a green jacket.
“Still kind of think it’s a dream, but hopefully it’s not.”
Before realising his childhood dream, Johnson had in September achieved a long-stated career goal of winning the Tour Championship, his first FedEx Cup and the $15 million payday, securing his spot at the top of the world rankings.
Always rated among the favourites at golf’s big events, Johnson’s talent and form had not translated into major success, with his only previous win coming at the 2016 U.S. Open.
After being quarantined in a Las Vegas hotel for almost two weeks, Johnson was cleared in time to play one tune up event in Houston last week.
Yet despite a promising tie for second at that event, he was unsure about the chances of adding a Green Jacket to his wardrobe.
“I knew I was going to play the Masters for sure, so that was a bonus, because I had already gotten COVID and had to quarantine,” explained Johnson.
“So I knew there was no chance of me missing the Masters, so that kind of gave me a little bit more of a drive to practise.
“I knew I was playing well. Granted, you sit in the hotel room for two weeks, it doesn’t do a lot for the golf game.
“You know, it’s just hard to get it done in a major for some reason.
“I’ve had the lead a couple times and haven’t been able to finish it off, and so it is very nice to have a lead and then play well on Sunday and get the win.
“I couldn’t be more happy, and I think I look pretty good in green, too.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)