Opinion: Dustin Johnson, the Masters both overcome COVID-19 in strangest golf major
AUGUSTA, Ga. - The strangest of all Masters tournaments, the spectator-less 2020 COVID-19 Masters, has ended in the most appropriate way, won overwhelmingly by a man who was in quarantine with COVID just a month ago.
Dustin Johnson’s majestic march across the hushed emerald fairways of Augusta National Golf Club felt more like a coronation than a competition, his historic 20-under par score becoming a perfect exclamation point on this disjointed sports year.
In the 84-year history of the Masters, no one has ever shot a lower score than Johnson, the world’s top-ranked player, did over the past four rounds. The day was anti-climactic only because he was so good. Johnson, 36, has been regarded as a prodigious talent in this sport for more than a decade, but he had won only one major tournament, the 2016 U.S. Open, failing four times at other majors when he held the overnight lead going into the final round.
He led by four strokes Saturday night. “Even I had doubts in my mind,” he said. “When am I going to have the lead and finish off a major?”
The answer turned out to be now. Right now. This time, there would be no collapse. After an uneven start in which he bogeyed two of his first five holes along with one birdie, he settled in and poured it on, finishing with a final round 4-under score of 68. He pumped his fist as his par putt fell on the 18th green, and the couple hundred club members and volunteers and assorted others who had gathered around cheered as best as they could.
Nineteen months earlier, the scene was so different: Tiger Woods winning his improbable fifth green jacket to a raucous ovation, melting into his children’s arms.
Everything was more muted for Johnson, but touching nonetheless. As he walked off the 18th green, he was greeted by two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, who was wearing his green jacket.
“I’ve always wanted one of those,” Johnson said as the two embraced.
Minutes later, Woods was putting a green jacket around Johnson’s shoulders. For a kid who grew up an hour down the road in Columbia, South Carolina, dreaming of winning the Masters, the moment finally caught up with him. He fought back tears several times in a TV interview and later rubbed the sleeve of the green jacket in the press center interview room, as if to make certain it was real.
It was just a month ago that Johnson spent 11 days by himself in a Las Vegas hotel room, quarantining after a positive COVID test. He had “very minor” COVID symptoms, he said.
“I felt like I had a cold. A little bit of a fever for maybe 36 hours. But after that, I felt fine. The worst part about it was the quarantining in the room for so long.”
Johnson said Sunday that he knew he wasn’t going to miss the Masters, but being away from the game for a couple of weeks wasn’t helping matters.
“Granted, you sit in a hotel room for two weeks, it doesn’t do a lot for the golf game,” he said. “But I put a lot of work in last week, and this week, and I was fortunate that I was able to keep the game in good form.”
So a Masters unlike any other, with no roars and no fanfare, produced a result that made all the sense in the world. A man who just recovered from COVID, who also happens to be the top-ranked player in the game, won the last men's golf major of the year, less than two weeks before Thanksgiving.
Of course that all just happened.
“2020’s been a really strange year," Johnson said with a sly smile, "but it’s been good to me.”