Zach Johnson: Hottest pro golfer on Earth

Johnson starts '14 same way he ended '13, with a win

Published: January 7 2014 | 10:45 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:43 am in

It's not hyperbole. No professional golfer in the world is on a bigger roll than Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids.

Johnson triumphed again Monday, shooting a 7-under-par 66 for a one-stroke Hyundai Tournament of Champions victory over Jordan Spieth in Kapalua, Maui.

Concidentally, it was Spieth who defeated Johnson and David Hearn in a five-hole sudden-death playoff last July at the John Deere Classic. That disappointing ending was merely the prelude to the greatest stretch in the Iowan's career, a stretch that has lifted him to No. 7 in the World Golf Rankings. He has never before been ranked as high.

Johnson won the BMW Championship in September, and closed 2013 with a victory, capturing the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge by defeating Tiger Woods in a playoff. A little less than a month later, he won the Tournament of Champions for the first time, giving him three wins in his last six tournaments. Plus, he was on the U.S.' winning Presidents Cup team in October.

This was his 11trh PGA Tour victory. Since he joined the Tour in 2004, only Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have more wins.

At some point -- and perhaps the process has already been completed -- Johnson will shed the label of underdog.

Sports Illustrated golf writer Alan Shipnuck thinks that time has already passed, and with good reason.

I'm giving you part of Shipnuck's first paragraph on his story about Johnson, and encourage you to read the rest here.

"It is time to trumpet Johnson for what he is: quite simply one of the best players in golf, and maybe its most tenacious competitor. In this era of nuclear drivers and atomic balls, the 5'10", 160 lb. Johnson gets it done the old-fashioned way, with precise ballstriking and a short-game for the ages. But his greatest attributes are anatomical. "I'd like to say he has something other than heart," says Johnson's caddie Damon Green. "He's got the biggest pair out here. Him and Tiger, I think. He's not afraid of being in the lead, he thrives on it. A lot of guys don't like being in the lead, they can't stomach it. But he's got a cast-iron stomach. Man, he's solid."

This latest win was on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, a 7,411-yard track that favors long-hitters. But as he did at the Masters in 2007, and has done so often elsewhere, the not-as-long Johnson wedged and putted his way to another win.

"I've always liked the teams and the individuals that are kind of coming from behind, that are not supposed to win," Johnson said at his press conference Monday. "Those always intrigued me in sports.  Competition intrigues me more than anything.  But the competitive aspects of sport that really drive me are those situations where Wichita State makes the Final Four, you know?  George Mason and Butler almost win a national title. I love that kind of stuff.

"I'm not saying I'm always an underdog, but I kind of feel like it."

Asked if he could still look at himself like that, he replied "I'm going to try to."

"I definitely feel like I've put myself in a place that this is a little foreign to me.  You know, some of the numbers I'm not exactly comfortable with or have never been to, meaning top 10 in the world, that kind of thing.  But I'm also a realist.  I know this game at some point could beat me up again.  So I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing.  Try to keep things very simple.

"I don't want to cluster my golf game even though I'm playing great.  Now there's going to be, and you guys know, there are going to be more media requests for me in the next couple weeks, and that's fine.  I can deal with that.  I dealt with that in '07, I dealt with it in '10, and '11, I can deal with it.  So those peripherals, I'm used to.  But winning a lot of golf tournaments in a row or multiple times in a four-month stretch, I'm not that accustomed to yet.  I hope I can get more accustomed to it.  I don't think it's going to be that big of a deal, like I said because I'm going to try to keep things as simple as possible."

In this tournament, Johnson was in mid-season form. He was second in the field in fewest putts, third in fairways in regulation.

Johnson earned $1,140,000 for the victory. That lifted the 37-year-old's career winnings to $31,571,652. This is the eighth different season in which he has recorded a win.

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