The secret to beating Tiger Woods

Updated: 11 April 2007 06:41 IST

Zach Johnson outplayed Tiger Woods to capture the Masters. Johnson's only US PGA Tour victory had come three years ago at the BellSouth Classic.

The secret to beating Tiger Woods

Georgia:

One was the greatest major champion of his era. The other was an unproven pro from Iowa.

This wasn't Sunday at Augusta National. It was 1955 at The Olympic Club.

In both cases, the feeling was it would be no contest.

"Most of them all thought Ben Hogan would be tough to beat," Jack Fleck said on Sunday. "No doubt about it."

In one of the most stunning upsets at a major, Fleck made birdie on the final hole at the US Open to force an 18-hole playoff with Hogan, who already had won four US Opens among his nine majors and was perhaps the most feared player in golf.

Fleck wasn't the biggest hitter, but he was straight. He wasn't a great putter, but he could hit irons as if they were lasers. He didn't do anything fancy that Monday, but he came up with the right shots and let Hogan self-destruct in the rough. Fleck wound up shooting a 69 to win by three shots.

He is 85 now, living in Arkansas, writing books and watching plenty of golf. You can be sure he was glued to his television set when Zach Johnson, a 31-year-old from Iowa, outplayed Tiger Woods on the back nine to capture the Masters.

Fleck won only two more times on the US PGA Tour for the rest of his career. Much more is expected of Johnson, who was the US Nationwide Tour player of the year in 2003 and already has played on one Ryder Cup team.

Woods was going after his third consecutive major, and he started the final round in the last group, only one shot behind Stuart Appleby. Johnson's only US PGA Tour victory had come three years ago at the BellSouth Classic.

He was two shots back and just another name who figured to get run over.

And when Johnson three-putted for bogey from the front of the fifth green, Woods took the lead for the first time in the tournament, even thought it only lasted about 20 minutes. Still, Woods never loses when he's in front on Sunday at a major.

"It looked like you could bet your money Tiger would win," Fleck said. "Who thought Zach would win?"

Johnson was 57th in driving distance out of the 60 players who made the cut. He gets by mainly on smarts, good iron play and putting.

And what helped him win the Masters was sticking to his strategy.

Johnson was in a four-way tie for the lead when he stood on the par-5 13th hole and hit one of his better drives, leaving him only 213 yards to the green. He never gave it a second thought.

Time to lay up.

"I had my limitations," Johnson said. "I didn't go for one par 5 in two the entire week, and I managed to make a lot of birdies on them. I was reading the greens well and putting well."

Johnson wound up with 11 birdies and five pars on those holes, the best performance of the week. The most impressive might have been a par on the 15th hole, after he again laid up. As he approached his wedge over the water to a back pin on a glassy green, Johnson heard an enormous roar from across the fairway to the 13th green.

"I assumed it was Tiger making an eagle," he said. "That was just an assumption."

Woods hammered a 5-iron over the creek and onto the green, where it rolled down a ridge to 3 feet.

Johnson took a breath.

"I wanted to make sure I had the right number with the right club," he said. "I hit an OK shot, nothing great, but I was able to give myself a chance at birdie."

He settled for par, then again let his putter do the work _ and earn him some redemption _ on the 16th with a 12-foot birdie that effectively allowed club officials to start looking for a 40-regular green jacket.

Victory was not secure until Johnson chipped across the 18th green to within inches to finish up a 69, and when Woods' approach into the 18th landed 20 feet from the hole. Woods wound up two shots behind, along with Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini. Both had been in the lead longer than Woods, but neither packs his presence on a leaderboard.

The secret to beating Woods is not beating yourself. It worked for Rich Beem at the 2002 U.S. PGA Championship, and for Michael Campbell at the 2005 U.S. Open.

Instead of moving to within five majors of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 as a professional, Woods settled for his third runner-up finish at a major. He is now within 16 of Nicklaus' record 19 second-places.

It was a rare stumble for Woods, who might have lost this tournament on Saturday with bogeys on the last two holes. That ultimately cost him the lead, and he has never lost with the 54-hole lead in a major. The difference on Sunday came on two holes _ Johnson made a 7-foot birdie on the 14th, Woods missed from 15 feet; Johnson holed an 8-foot birdie on No. 16, and Woods missed from 12 feet.

Fleck doesn't like to compare Hogan with Woods because of course conditions and equipment.

But there is no doubting the mystique.

"Tiger has an amazing record in the majors," said Vaughn Taylor, who played with Johnson. "It's nice to see him give one up."

Someone asked Taylor if Woods was Superman, what would that make Johnson?

"Superman's brother," he said.

Johnson wouldn't buy into that.

"I'm Zach Johnson, and I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa," he said. "That's about it. I'm a normal guy."

Sounds a lot like Fleck.

Two normal guys from Iowa who played their game.

One was good enough to beat Ben Hogan at the U.S. Open. The other was good enough to beat Tiger Woods at the Masters.

Topics : Golf
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