Zach Johnson wins British Open in a playoff

Devil Ball Golf

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — About 90 minutes before he would win the British Open in a playoff, Zach Johnson stood with Marc Leishman on the putting green in front of the R&A clubhouse. They worked on their strokes and worked off nerves as the day's final pairings marched up the 18th fairway. Johnson had finished with a 6-under 66 to post a clubhouse mark of 15-under for the tournament, and Leishman had matched it. Now, all that remained was to see who, if anyone, would join them.

Zach Johnson's birdie on 18 pushed him to 15-under par. (AP)
Zach Johnson's birdie on 18 pushed him to 15-under par. (AP)
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Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, in the penultimate pairing, each had a shot to birdie the 18th and get into a playoff, but both fell just short. Then came Louis Oosthuizen, and he did what the two before him (Jordan Spieth and Jason Day) couldn't: birdie the 18th and force his way into the playoff.

Over at the putting green, Leishman had remained focused on his individual strokes. Johnson had watched each player finish out, and when Oosthuizen joined the playoff, Johnson nodded as if to say, "All right, then. This is how it's going to be."

Given all that had happened before Oosthuizen finished out the regulation segment of play, it was only fitting that the British Open would go down to a playoff. Throughout the afternoon, everyone from Johnson to Oosthuizen to Leishman to Padraig Harrington to Jordan Spieth to Jason Day to Paul Dunne took a turn at the top of the leaderboard.

No one was in control, everyone hanging on. Eventually the course whittled the contenders down to three.

Johnson needed a lengthy birdie putt to drop on 18 just to get into the playoff. When it did, his caddy broke into a bird dance as Johnson crouched to his knees, pumping his fist, knowing he had a chance. Ooshuizen needed a birdie at 18, too, and it was on.

Johnson and Oosthuizen both birdied the first playoff hole (No. 1), Leishman bogeyed the hole, and the playoff was effectively a two-man race. Johnson birdied the second (No. 2), Oosthuizen parred, and they moved to the 17th – the most difficult hole on the course.

[Slideshow: Round 4 of the British Open]

All three hit drives in the fairway, not an easy task, but Johnson sprayed his approach to the left, pitched it back over the green and wound up with bogey. Oosthuizen had a chance at par, missed a short putt, leaving Johnson up by one as they headed to the 18th.

Needing birdie to tie, Oosthuizen had his birdie putt slip by the hole, and the Claret Jug was Johnson's.

"These are the things you dream about," Johnson said. "These are the things you've worked to get to. I'm humbled because there's a lot of individuals that have put me in this position that trust in me, and I trust in them. I'm humbled by, I think, the talent that I've been given, and I'm humbled right now because of what's in my lap and the names that are etched on this piece of metal that is very special."

For Johnson, it was his second major victory, the first coming at the Masters in 2007.

Coming into the week, talk focused almost entirely on Spieth. Having won two of the first four majors of the season, he was in position to do something no one since Bobby Jones has done: winning the "Grand Slam" of golf. Given every opportunity to flake throughout the week, Spieth held strong all the way through to Monday, where two holes proved his undoing.

A four-putt on the eighth hole led to a double bogey. Still, he had fought back into a tie for the lead as he went to 17, only to bogey there, leaving him one stroke off the lead. One stroke.

[Slideshow: Round 4 of the British Open]

The tournament began with unusually mild conditions, and Spieth and Dustin Johnson (playing together) took immediate advantage. Spieth birdied five of his first seven holes, while Johnson eagled the first par-5 he'd seen in a major since the catastrophic meltdown at the U.S. Open. Johnson roared out to yet another lead in a major, hoping that at long last he could put the demons of past failures behind him.

At the other end of the leaderboard was Tiger Woods, who once again faltered on the course despite looking strong on the range. Woods has now missed the cut in three of the last four majors, and real doubts about Woods' future viability now exist.

Meanwhile, Tom Watson, racing darkness on Friday night, took his final walk across the Swilcan Bridge, bringing to a close a remarkable five-win career at the British Open. Another British golf legend, Sir Nick Faldo, also marked his final round at St. Andrews with an absolutely hideous, but historic, sweater.

The tournament was turned on its ear Friday when the legendary wind and rain took hold at St. Andrews.  The round was halted by darkness midway through as winds gusted over 40 mph, and players would find it impossible to putt with any degree of accuracy. A brief restart on Saturday morning left players enraged, and after another lengthly delay, the second round limped to a close on Saturday evening. That pushed the final day of the tournament to Monday, just the second time that's happened in the 144 times this tournament has been played.

Sunday's third round brought with it two surprises, one welcome, the other less so. On an incredibly easy scoring day, former British Open champion David Duval returned from obscurity, at one point even coming within two strokes of the lead. Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson absolutely fell apart, putting up the second-worst round of the day and effectively playing himself from the lead to out of contention. Over the final two rounds, Johnson dropped eight strokes to finish in a tie for 50th.

The leaderboard featured major winners at every direction, and Monday's play did not disappoint. Phil Mickelson made an early run but played himself out of contention when he fired a tee shot onto the balcony of the hotel running alongside the 17th hole. Sergio Garcia made a brief run, as did Day, like Spieth coming up just one shot short of the playoff.

Johnson posted 6-under for his final round, as did Leishman, both needing every one of those birdies to get back into contention, as they trailed by three strokes back to start the day. No one went lower, which is sort of how it should be ... the winner playing best on Sunday, or Monday, as this tournament would have it.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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