AUGUSTA, United States (AFP) - Top-ranked Dustin Johnson shook off an early stumble to win the Masters in record-breaking fashion on Sunday (Nov 15), capturing his second major title with the lowest total score in the tournament's history.
The 36-year-old American, who grew up only an hour's drive north of Augusta National, became the first reigning world number one to grab the green jacket since Tiger Woods in 2002.
Johnson, whose other major victory came at the 2016 US Open, fired a closing four-under-par 68 to finish on a 72-hole Masters record 20-under-par for a five-stroke triumph over South Korean Im Sung-jae and Australian Cameron Smith.
Johnson smashed the old 72-hole Masters mark of 18-under 270 set by Woods in 1997 and matched by Jordan Spieth in 2015.
Third-ranked American Justin Thomas was fourth on 276, one stroke ahead of fifth-ranked Rory McIlroy and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli.
Johnson, who began with a four-shot edge, had never converted a 54-hole major lead into a title, stumbling at the 2010, 2015 and 2018 US Opens and in August's PGA Championship, where he settled for a runner-up spot.
That hex ended Sunday, but not without some early drama as Johnson, runner-up in three of the past six majors including the 2019 Masters, saw his lead trimmed to one.
After curling in a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-4 third, Johnson made back-to-back bogeys at the fifth and par-3 sixth, ending a run of 33 bogey-free holes.
Im birdied the second and third to stand only one adrift on 14-under, but he faded with bogeys at the par-3 sixth and par-4 seventh.
Johnson responded with six-foot birdie putts at the sixth and par-5 eighth to reach 17-under, stretching his gap to three on Smith, four on Im.
Johnson was unflappable from there with deadly accuracy and consistency.
He sank a 12-footer for birdie at the par-5 13th and a six-footer to birdie the 14th to reach 19-under, seizing a five-shot edge with four holes remaining.
"DJ has just an amazing ability to stay calm in tough moments," Woods said. There's no one more suited to that, I think, than DJ." Johnson sank a five-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th and parred in for his 24th career PGA title, his four bogeys on the week the fewest of any Masters champion.
Im was trying to become the first Masters debut winner since 1979 and only the second male Asian major winner after compatriot Yang Yong-eun captured the 2009 PGA Championship.
Smith, a 27-year-old from Brisbane chasing his first major crown, closed on 69 and settled for becoming the first player in Masters history to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, needing a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam, went three-under on the front nine but made bogey on 10 and never threatened Johnson.
Woods horror show
McIlroy, unable to recover from a first-round 75, took some solace after a sixth failed attempt to complete the career Slam.
"I didn't have a great start but over the last 54 holes, only two bogeys, a lot of great golf in there," McIlroy said. "Not overthinking it as much could be the key for me."
Defending champion Woods found Rae's Creek three times on his way to a septuple-bogey 10 at the par-3 12th, his worst score ever on a major hole. He responded with birdies on five of the last six holes to close on 76 and finish on 287.
"Hit a few too many shots than I wanted," Woods said. "Had a lot more experiences there in Rae's Creek." The 15-time major winner, a five-time Masters champion, matched his best Augusta start with a 68 but back pain doomed his bid for a sixth green jacket.
Germany's Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters champion and at 63 the oldest player to make any Masters cut, fired a 71 to finish on 285.
That was one stroke better than US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who closed on 73, never coming close to overpowering Augusta National as some feared. He struggled with dizziness, testing negative Friday for Covid-19.
"I had some weird things happen to me I just couldn't forsee," DeChambeau said. "I've got to fix this dizziness or whatever is going on. I've got to get healthy first and foremost." American Andy Ogletree closed on 72 to finish as low amateur on 286.
There were no spectators to provide trademark Masters roars due to the Covid-19 pandemic that postponed the event from its usual April slot.