AUGUSTA, Ga. - Zach Johnson is 31. And he's from Iowa. Like a lot of pro golfers, he now lives in Florida. He began playing at age 10 and went to Drake University. Lists his parents among his heroes. His father is a chiropractor. He once dominated the minor league Nationwide Tour, with nine top-three finishes in 2003. That year, he married Kim Barclay. In January they had a son, Will.
So much for the bio. His story is about as wholesome as this stuff gets.
What more do you really need to know? Oops, almost forgot. He posted his lone PGA Tour victory 3 years ago, some 2 hours away by way of Interstate 20 in Atlanta.
Yesterday, he doubled his victory total, in the unlikeliest of settings. Then again, when you think about how this goofy week played out, maybe it made perfect sense.
When the round began, was there anyone who didn't think Tiger Woods was going to get a fifth green jacket, and third straight major, which would also be his 13th overall? Probably not even Mrs. Johnson. That's why they tee it up. Because sometimes the golfing gods throw you a big-time knuckleball.
Decades from now, people might remember it as the Masters that Tiger threw away, instead of the one Johnson earned. Which would, of course, be unfair. A bunch of guys had their chances, including Woods and two-time U.S. Open champ Retief Goosen, who barely made the cut. So who would you put your next mortgage payment on?
But Johnson, who trailed third-round leader Stuart Appleby by two shots when he headed out in the third-to-last pairing, carded a 3-under-par 69, to finish at 1-over 289. That was two better than Tiger, Goosen and Rory Sabbatini. The best Tiger could do was close with a 72, while the other two matched Johnson's score.
If only Tiger hadn't finished bogey-bogey on Thursday and Saturday. But he did. That's not Johnson's fault.
It's the highest number to win at Augusta National since Jackie Burke posted the same total in 1956. Doesn't matter. Johnson's world has been altered. Forever. In time, who will care about the details?
"It feels very, very surreal," he said in Butler Cabin, just before defending champ Phil Mickelson slipped the most recognizable prize in sports onto his shoulders. "You dream about it. I didn't think it would be this year."
He was hardly alone. But, on an afternoon that saw five guys assume sole possession of the lead along the way, he was the one who was there at the only time it counted. He started with a bogey but very quietly worked his way into contention. He went in front for keeps with a birdie at the par-5 13th. He then added another on the next hole, and it was serious. And made one more at 16, which left him three clear with two to go. Good thing, because he bogeyed 17 and missed the green short and right on the home hole. Not to worry. He chipped up to within a gimme.
When Justin Rose, who had been one back, took himself out of the running with a double-bogey at 17, the last remaining concern was Tiger. Which, of course, is anything but a minor deal. Woods, however, couldn't convert a 10-footer for bird on 16. Nor could he come close to making anything happen after that. Which meant Johnson was free to share some hugs and tears with his family by the 18th green.
It's the first time somebody not in the final twosome has won this thing since 1990. And the first-place check was worth $1.3 million - or about $1.1 million more than Nick Faldo pocketed 17 Aprils ago. That buys a boatload of diapers.
"You may not know where Tiger is, but you can feel him, for obvious reasons," Johnson said. "It wasn't over until he hit his second shot on 18 . . .
"I felt at peace. I don't know why."
Should we mention that John-son's ninth-place finish 2 weeks ago at Doral was his best of the season? Or that he shot 81 in his first round here, in 2005? This time he went 71-73-76-69. Any other year, that wouldn't mean much. But this Masters resembled your basic U.S. Open on Friday, and a British Open on Saturday. It got so bad that if the field had backed up any more, Jack Nicklaus would have made it on the leaderboard. The weather cooperated a bit more for the closing act, but it was still anything but the place that generations have come to know.
In terms of comfort level, it probably didn't hurt that John-son was paired with Augusta's Vaughn Taylor. They were among the four rookies who made last year's American Ryder Cup team.
"He's a tough guy," Taylor said. "He's a big-time grinder. At the Ryder Cup he showed a lot of guts. He did today, too. He does a lot of the right things.
"Somewhere along the way he got it into another gear . . . His attitude is one of the best out here. His aura, his outlook on life."
It's an outlook that just took on a whole new perspective.
"I'm not sure I believed in this," Johnson admitted. "[Kim] did. I feel very blessed, that it worked out in my favor. I had an emotional roller coaster on the course right after the round. I was trying to prepare myself for a [possible] playoff. Seeing my boy was huge. I can't put it into words. He doesn't really care. I could have shot 85 and he would have reacted the same way. He was still asleep. He had no idea. I told him I love him."
Someday, he'll understand exactly what happened, and how.
Someday, perhaps we all will.
In the meantime, accept the fact that the best man survived. Even if most didn't have a clue who he was. They know now.
Johnson, who attended the same Cedar Rapids High School as former Super Bowl MVP Curt Warner, made his first trip here in 2001. But it was to watch the practice rounds with a friend. That's a long way from expanding your wardrobe.
"My dreams have been answered, I guess," Johnson gushed. "I tried to stay in the present. I really didn't know where I stood until about the 17th hole. I kept asking my caddie, 'Should I look? Should I look?' It was my day. I'm pretty lucky . . .
"I'm just a Midwest guy. This is what it's all about."