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Master of the Elements

Zach Johnson, Close up, 2007 Masters, Fourth Round
Robert Beck/SI
Though he chose to lay up on all the par-5s, the short-hitting Johnson still played those holes in an impressive 11 under par.

From Arnold Palmer to Phil Mickelson, the Masters has a long history of decisive final-hole dramatics, but this year's tournament was a Masters unlike any other, and so the ending was destined to be a little messy. After four days of exasperating golf, it figured that Zach Johnson would win his green jacket while slouched in the locker room, averting his eyes from a television because he couldn't bear to watch his fate unfold.

Johnson, the dimpled, boyish pride of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had retreated to the Augusta National clubhouse after a spectacular final-round 69. He held the lead at one over par, and the only player left on the course who could catch him was none other than Tiger Woods, who was two strokes back with two holes to play.

Johnson settled in at a small table in the locker room, which was deserted but for the courtly clubhouse attendants, a pair of tournament officials and a gent at a neighboring table who was turned out in a tweed jacket and a green Masters hat that couldn't quite contain his unruly blond locks.

"This is an important day for you," the man said, by way of hello.

"Yes, it's Easter," said Johnson, a regular at the PGA Tour's Bible study groups. Then Johnson recognized the fellow he was talking to.

"Mr. Becker, I'm a huge fan!" he blurted. Boris Becker smiled back.

As Woods was walking to his ball in the 17th fairway, Becker asked Johnson how he was feeling.

"My legs are numb from the knees down," he said with a laugh. "I'm not sure they're still attached to my body."

Woods dumped his approach into a bunker short of the green, an inexplicable unforced error characteristic of a round replete with missed opportunities. Still, the shot from the trap was eminently makeable, and Johnson closed his eyes as Woods settled into the sand. He didn't steal a peek until Woods's shot had skittered safely away from the hole.

"You're almost home," someone said to Johnson, and now, finally, the tears started to come. He calmed himself in time to watch Woods rip a drive on 18. Tiger had to hole the approach shot for eagle to force a playoff, and Johnson broke up the room by saying what everybody else was thinking: "He's done stranger things."

As Woods went through his preshot routine, Johnson buried his head in his hands. He looked up as Woods's approach was floating well right of the flag. Just like that, Johnson, 31, had triumphed at the 71st Masters, only the second victory of his Tour career.

"I honestly cannot believe this is happening," he said, speaking for so many.

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