AUGUSTA, Ga. — For 10 years, Dustin Johnson’s chase for career-defining, major championship titles was tinged with ruthless angst, misfortune and calamitous setbacks.
He grounded a club in an unobserved bunker at the 2010 P.G.A. Championship to earn a heartless penalty that bounced him from a playoff for the victory. Five years later, at the United States Open, a three-putt on the final hole cost him another major championship playoff berth. Riding a hot streak that made him the prohibitive favorite at the Masters three years ago, Johnson slipped on the stairs at this rental house on the tournament’s eve and withdrew with a back injury.
Even as he won the 2016 U.S. Open, he was saddled with the ignominy of a penalty assessed after his celebration on the final hole.
But on Sunday, with verve and nerve, Johnson comfortably secured the validating breakthrough achievement he has long sought with a runaway, five-stroke victory at the 2020 Masters. It is a championship that separates Johnson, one of golf’s most talented players, from the gaggle of nearly 150 golfers with one major title and brightens the path to the game’s pantheon of heroes.
Johnson, 36, hopes to find his way there.
“It feels good to get past one major, especially when the second one is the Masters, which I always dreamed of winning as a kid,” said Johnson, who grew up in Columbia, S.C., about an hour’s drive from the Augusta National Golf Club. “I dream of winning a lot of majors. Hopefully, this one will help give me a little spring.”
Johnson, whose unshakable stoicism on the golf course has become his best-known trait, broke down in tears while being interviewed after the final round behind the 18th green.
“It still feels like I’m dreaming,” he said, wiping his eyes.
Johnson’s closest pursuers were Sungjae Im of South Korea and Cameron Smith of Australia, who each finished the tournament at 15 under par. They narrowed Johnson’s lead after he made consecutive bogeys on the fourth and fifth holes, but Johnson rallied with two birdies in his next three holes and then extended his lead from there.
Johnson’s final-round, four-under-par 68 gave him a tournament score of 268, or 20 under par, which broke the 72-hole Masters record of 270 previously held by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.
Woods, the defending champion, began Sunday 11 strokes behind Johnson, but never mounted a run at the lead. At the par-3 12th hole, he hit three balls into the creek protecting the green and registered a score of 10, his highest score on any hole in his PGA Tour career.
Woods then birdied five of his last six holes to finish one under par for the tournament and tied for 38th.
Johnson’s victory also concluded a bizarrely atypical Masters, which was postponed to November from its customary spot in early April because of the coronavirus pandemic. An event known for its traditions, the 84th Masters was contested for the first time without fans, who are normally an essential part of the visual and auditory experience. Augusta National was so quiet that only the chatter between player and caddie rose above the chirping birds. The final round, a theatric staple of the worldwide sporting calendar, was held four hours earlier than its standard time to account for the diminished amount of sunlight in the fall.
Finally, Johnson was presented with the green jacket that goes with his victory less than five months before he will have to defend his title in April 2021.
That is a circumstance that did not vex Johnson, the world’s top-ranked player.
“I know 2020 has been a really strange year,” said Johnson, who contracted the coronavirus last month and quarantined for roughly two weeks with mild symptoms. “But it’s been good to me.”
Johnson’s victory was his first after holding the 54-hole lead in a major championship. He had failed to win in four such instances, including in August when he tied for second at the P.G.A. Championship. Johnson conceded that not being able to close out the lead in a major had begun to weigh on him.
“There was doubts in my mind,” he said, adding: “I’m in this position a lot of times — like when am I going to finish off the golf tournament or finish off a major?
“This definitely proved that I can do it.”
The Masters victory caps off a brilliant year for Johnson, who won four 2020 PGA Tour events and was second or tied for second three other times. In what is the final substantial tournament of 2020, Johnson on Sunday also stole the spotlight from Bryson DeChambeau, whose recent top results and attention-grabbing, towering drives had made him the Masters favorite. DeChambeau, who shot a one-over-par 73 Sunday to finish the event two under par, said that he battled bouts of dizziness during the tournament and indicated he was going to see a doctor when he returned home to Dallas.
“I’ve got to fix this dizziness; I’ve got to get healthy,” DeChambeau said.
As the sun set Sunday evening, in a Masters ritual, Woods helped put a green jacket, size 42 long, on Johnson’s shoulders. Later, Johnson was asked if there was any special meaning to having Woods, the five-time Masters champion, performing the ceremony.
“Yes,” he answered. Then, with a laugh and broad smile he added: “But any guy could put it on me and I’d be just fine.”