Like last year, it happened during breakfast at the Masters. Like last year, everyone was talking about Tiger Woods and the 12th hole.
Everything else was different Sunday at a Masters unlike any other, including the man who slipped on a green jacket for the first — and likely not the last — time. Dustin Johnson didn’t just win the Masters, he obliterated an Augusta National course that ended up playing a lot easier in November than it ever did in April.
Johnson did it with the nonchalance of a player who could have been at the local muni for a Sunday game with his buddies. And he did it without the usual stress of an April Sunday, when the roars echo through the tall pines and players suddenly become very nervous about more than just the slippery greens.
Now the question becomes: What will the Masters look like just five months from now?
There will be flowering azaleas, that’s for sure. We missed those this year, even though the course looked spectacular and fans watching on TV got to see parts of the golf course they didn’t know existed.
And there just might be fans, something that this Masters was missing — and missing badly. While the grandeur of Augusta National was on display in the final round, the Master just isn’t as grand without the fans who bring as much to the tournament as the tricky tee shot on No. 12 that led to an astonishing 10 for Woods on the same hole where he took command last year.
No roars. No buzz. Just a relentless march to a win that was decided long before Johnson made one last birdie on the par-5 15th.
To be sure, Johnson likely would have held on to the four-shot lead he brought into the final round even if the place was jammed full. He was in complete control of his game and the golf course all week, and the only real question was whether he would break the all-time Masters scoring record — which he ended up doing by two shots with a final round 68.
But on this day there was no charge from behind to worry about. No real drama, even when the lead shrunk to just one shot on the front nine and things briefly got interesting.
It wasn’t that the other players gave up, far from it. But that there was no little extra to push them forward like Woods got last year when he seemed fueled by the crowd going crazy all around him on the back nine.
“For all of us chasing D.J. there’s no fans or nothing to make that moment even harder, to have the buzz, to have the adrenaline, to have a little bit more pressure put on him that won’t be there this year,” Justin Thomas said a day earlier.
When Johnson tapped in for a par on 18 for a five-shot win there were no huge throngs around the final green like a year earlier for Woods. No huge celebration by Johnson, either, who clenched his fist, smiled and gave his caddie brother, Austin, a brief hug after winning his second major championship.
He made it look like a walk in a very nice park, even though he admitted being nervous all day and nearly started crying on 18 when he saw his brother tearing up. As he walked off the final green, he was congratulated by past winners, including Bubba Watson in his own green jacket.
“I always dreamed of having one of those,” he told Watson. “Now I got one.”
Johnson will have a chance to get another one, starting just 144 days from Sunday. For now, Augusta National officials are planning on the 2021 Masters to go on as scheduled in April, though just how it will look might be different.
The coronavirus joined the weather this year as perhaps the only two things the green jackets can’t control.
“I’m hopeful that we will see improved conditions regarding this virus, but April is less than five months away,” Masters chairman Fred Ridley said. “So there’s certainly no assurance of that.”
In the end, the Masters got a proper champion, even if it came seven months later than scheduled. Johnson is the best player in the world, and now that he has a Masters along with a U.S. Open title, it’s hard to think he won’t be dominating golf for some time.
That he won it without fans won’t be the memory Johnson takes away from it.
“I feel the same way, whether the fans are here or not,” Johnson said. “I like having them here. They bring excitement, especially when they are cheering for you, they can pull you along. I miss them, and hopefully we get to see them in April.”
That is everyone’s hope, of course, because it would mean things would be closer than normal. And if there is one thing that will be remembered about the 2020 Masters it’s that there was not a lot normal about it.
Except that the green jacket Woods put around Johnson’s shoulders fit as well in November as it would have in April.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg