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Johnson clutch on back nine to earn 2nd career win

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It all seemed surreal to Zach Johnson. Three
clutch birdies on the back nine at the Masters. His name atop the
leaderboard. Toppling Tiger Woods. Slipping on the green jacket.

"I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa," he said when asked to describe
himself. "That's about it. I'm a normal guy."

Not anymore.

Normal guys don't beat Woods in the final round of a major,
especially when Woods is in the lead. Normal guys aren't unfazed by
the ground-shaking cheers of Woods making an eagle to mount a
charge.

Jack Fleck was a normal guy from Iowa, too, and he took down the
great Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open.

Maybe everyone should have seen this one coming.

A strange week at Augusta National saved the biggest surprise
for the very end -- Johnson as the Masters champion, and beating
Woods to get there.

"As they say, a giant has got to fall at some point," he said.

Johnson pulled away from Woods and the rest of the pack with
three birdies in a pivotal four-hole stretch, closing with a
3-under 69 for a two-shot victory over Woods, Retief Goosen and
Rory Sabbatini. It was only the second victory of his career.

Woods was within two shots after his eagle on the 13th hole, but
all he could muster were pars the rest of the way. His last chance
ended when his approach to the 18th settled 20 feet to the right of
the pin. And for the first time ever in a major, Woods walked the
final hole with no trophy waiting for him at the end and no one
behind him on the course

"I was sitting in the locker room, waiting for Tiger to hit his
shot on 18, and I thought, 'He's done stranger things,'" Johnson
said. "The guy is a phenom. The next person to come along like
him, who knows how long that will be? It makes it that much more
gratifying knowing I beat Tiger Woods."

Even more gratifying to Johnson was winning on Easter.

"My faith is very important to me," he said. "I had people
looking after me. It was awesome."

The 31-year-old Johnson is the least accomplished Masters
champion since Larry Mize, who also had only one PGA Tour victory,
chipped in to beat Greg Norman in a playoff 20 years ago.

But this was no fluke.

The thrills and spills finally returned to Augusta National in
the final round. Through it all, Johnson kept his cool.

"I felt like I've been blessed and I'm good enough to take home
the green jacket," Johnson said. "That's what I was trying to
tell myself the entire time and it worked out in my favor."

Johnson finished at 1-over 289, matching a Masters record last
set in 1956 for highest winning score. And it ended a streak of the
winner coming out of the final group at Augusta National ever year
since 1991.

"He played beautifully," Woods said. "Look at the round he
shot out there, the score. He did what he needed to do. He went out
there, grinded away, made shots he needed to make."

Woods looked like a lock for his fifth Masters and third
straight major when he took the lead after a short birdie on the
second hole, only this major didn't work out like so many others.

Johnson and three other players came after him, and this time
Woods was the one who backed off with sloppy mistakes -- a broken
club, shots that either found the water or the bunker and too many
putts that stayed out of the cup.

It was the third time Woods lost a lead during the final round
of a major, and the first time he ever failed to get it back.

He closed with a 72, the first time as a professional he has
played the Masters without breaking par. Goosen and Sabbatini each
shot 69 on a day when the course finally allowed something that
resembled those fabled charges on the back nine.

Johnson chipped away at the myth that the Masters is only for
the big boys. He didn't try to reach any of the par 5s in two all
week, yet he played them better than anyone with 11 birdies and no
bogeys.

"I knew if I stayed in the present, I'd do well," he said. "I
kept rolling that ball, and it was my day, I guess. Pretty lucky."

Defending champion Phil Mickelson presented him the green
jacket. It was six years ago when Johnson first showed up at
Augusta National with a ticket and followed Lefty around as he
tried to stop Woods from a fourth consecutive major.

Now, Johnson can come back to play in the Masters as long as he
wants as one of the most unlikely champions.

Woods walked away bitter again, not so much at his play on
Sunday but for the way he finished in previous rounds. A
bogey-bogey finish on Saturday that ultimately cost him the lead,
and a bogey-bogey finish on Thursday that set the tone for his
week.

"I had a chance," Woods said. "But looking back over the
week, I basically blew this tournament on two rounds where I had
bogey-bogey finishes. That's 4 over on two holes. You can't afford
to do that and win major championships."

Even so, he didn't help himself in the final round.

Two shots behind making the turn, Woods found a bunker on the
10th and failed to save par. His tee shot stopped next to a Georgia
pine on the next hole, and Woods' 4-iron collided with the tree
immediately after he hit the ball, bending the shaft almost in
half. He did well to save par there, and seemed to hit another gear
on the 13th.

With the 4-iron in pieces, he hammered a 5-iron over the creek
at the 13th and watched it trickle down the top shelf within 3 feet
away for his only eagle of the week.

Johnson, who laid up short of the 15th green, was walking to his
third shot when he heard the roar and "I assumed Tiger made
eagle" to pull within two shots.

Johnson made par from just off the green, then holed a 12-foot
birdie putt on the 16th to cap his run and put Woods in position of
needing a charge of his own. Woods simply didn't have it.

His 15-foot birdie attempt on the 14th broke across the front of
the cup. And from the right rough on the 15th, needing to bend the
ball around the pines, his 3-iron came up just short and into the
water. He pitched to 7 feet to save par and stay in the game.

Johnson three-putted from about 35 feet on the 17th for bogey,
again leaving Woods hope. But he missed a 15-foot birdie putt on
the 16th, and his approach to the 17th came up short in a bunker.

"What the hell was that?" Woods said.

Goosen also had his chances, going out in 32 to take the lead
and making only one bogey on back nine, a three-putt at No. 12. But
it was a peculiar decision to hit iron off the tee at the 510-yard
13th -- easily reachable in two -- and he left himself only an
18-foot attempt for birdie, which he missed. He also laid up on the
par-5 15th after driving into the trees.

The best chance to catch Johnson belonged to Justin Rose, who
made five birdies in a nine-hole stretch through the 16th and was
one shot behind until hitting his tee shot into the trees on No. 17
and taking double bogey. Rose finished with a 73 and tied for fifth
at 292 with Jerry Kelly (70).

Stuart Appleby, who had a one-shot lead over Woods going into
the last round, recovered from a double bogey on his opening hole
to join a four-way tie for the lead on the back nine until he hit
7-iron into Rae's Creek on the 12th hole and took double bogey.

With two double bogeys on his card, he shot 75 and finished four
back.

"I had too many doubles and a triple," Appleby said. "You can
handle bogeys out here. But once you do the big numbers, you walk
yourself backwards. It was a tough day. I enjoyed the day. Would
have loved a rosier finish."