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American Zach Johnson Wins British Open in Playoff

United States’ Zach Johnson celebrates with members of the public as he holds the trophy after winning a playoff after the final round at the British Open Golf Championship at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland, July 20, 2015.
United States’ Zach Johnson celebrates with members of the public as he holds the trophy after winning a playoff after the final round at the British Open Golf Championship at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland, July 20, 2015.

Thirteen golfers have won the Masters and the British Open Championship. American Zach Johnson has now joined that elite group.

The 39-year-old Iowa native outlasted a crowded leaderboard, turbulent conditions and a three-man playoff to win the 144th edition of the Open Championship on Monday at St. Andrews, Scotland.

Johnson defeated the previous winner of the Open Championship when it was played at the Old Course in 2010, South African Louis Oosthuizen, by one stroke in a four-hole playoff, and by three over Australian Marc Leishman.

Johnson birdied the first two holes of the cumulative score playoff, which gave him a one-shot lead over Oosthuizen and the ultimate edge.

Oosthuizen had a chance to tie Johnson for the lead with a eight-foot (2.5m) birdie putt on the final playoff hole, but his ball rolled just below the cup. The missed putt secured Johnson his 12th career PGA Tour victory and his second major, the first coming at The Masters in Augusta, Georgia, in 2007.

“I’m fairly speechless right now,” Johnson told officials, media and fans during the trophy presentation. “Dreams have been realized and goals accomplished. I’m humbled and honored to be your Open Champion golfer of the year.”

Highlighting Johnson’s remarkable round was a 25-foot (7.6m) birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to secure him a playoff position at 15-under-par 273 for the four rounds of the tournament. “I had a great read,” he stated after his victory. “I thought, ‘You know what, let’s just hit a good putt.’ I was able to make it in. The rest is history.”

Zach Johnson's six-under 66 is the lowest final round of his major career (31 rounds), and arguably his biggest. His superb wedge play and putting were key to his victory.

“This really puts things into perspective for me,” he said. “It’s a beautiful game and provides great opportunity. I’m just so thankful.”

Playoff Contenders

Louis Oosthuizen became the third player in the modern era to finish runner-up in both the U.S. Open and British Open Championship in the same year, joining South African Ernie Els and retired American legend Jack Nicklaus.

He sunk a six-footer (2m) at the last hole of regulation for a birdie, putting him in the playoff. However, his two missed putts on the final two playoff holes assured that Oosthuizen would have to wait for next month's PGA Championship at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin to try to win his second major championship.

“I really did well getting into the playoff,” Oosthuizen stated. “It’s never nice to lose a playoff. But I’ll take a lot out of this week. I love this place and I can’t wait to come back to it again.”

Leishman, whose bogey on the first playoff hole was costly, had made the halfway cut by only one stroke, nine shots off the lead after two rounds. Leishman made it to the top with six holes to play in his final round Monday, only to lose his outright lead by missing a four-foot (1.2m) putt at the 16th hole.

But he did accomplish a combined 36-hole Open record low eight-under-par 64 and six-under-par 66 in the third and fourth rounds that put him in contention for the championship.

Scottish Weather

Because of severe wind disruption to an already weather-affected event on Friday and Saturday, the tournament’s final round was extended until Monday. It was only the second Monday finish in history for an Open Championship.

The only previous need for that scenario was in 1988 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, when Seve Ballesteros of Spain claimed the Claret Jug.

Monday’s playing conditions reflected the weekend, with rain and wind unpredictably starting and stopping throughout the day.

In many ways, the Open leaderboard fluctuated just as rapidly as the weather. Eleven players finished within five shots of the top, and seven had at least a share of the lead at some point in the final 36 holes.
It soon became clear from the nature of the early scores of the tournament that the Claret Jug would go to the man who shot the lowest of the low.

Overall on Monday, there were four outright lead changes in the final round, capping off a memorable Open Championship at St. Andrews.

Great Effort

Much like the weather, American Jordan Spieth’s hopes of a Grand Slam in a single year were washed away after he missed a long birdie putt on the 18th hole for a share of the lead.

The 2015 Masters and U.S. Open winner fell one shot short of potentially winning the first three Majors of the year, a feat only accomplished by American Ben Hogan back in 1953. Spieth shot 14-under-par for the four rounds, and was lurking behind the leading scorers during his final 36 holes.

After sinking an improbable birdie putt on the 16th hole to tie Johnson and Leishman for the lead, it looked as if Spieth would use his momentum to capture the tournament. But a bogey on the tricky 17th, known as the Road Hole, put him in a position that proved to be too difficult to overcome.

“We gave it a great effort,” Spieth stated afterwards. “It stings a little bit, but ultimately we gave it a great run. And it was phenomenal golf played by those three guys. It’s tough to swallow.”