Dustin Johnson sauntered up the 18th fairway at Augusta National an exonerated man, knowing he finally and completely exorcised any demons remaining in his major championship closet.
A golfer known as much for his close calls and crazy losses as his impressive power and significant wins, Johnson put an exclamation mark on his career at the Masters this week, winning his second major championship and first green jacket with a 20-under-par total that blew away the competition and rewrote the tournament record books.
But more than etching his name in Masters lore, Johnson silenced all the doubters who questioned his ability to close out leads in majors. Previously 0-5 when he had the lead going into the final round of a major championship, and having suffered several blow-up performances in those situations previously, no one can ask him about all those what-ifs anymore. I mean, sure, someone could still bring up Chambers Bay or Whistling Straights or Pebble Beach again, but all Johnson has to do to retort is point to this tournament as his coup de grâce.
Besides setting a new record for lowest 72-hole score in Masters tournament history at 20-under par, two better than the previous mark set by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, Johnson's 4 bogeys were the fewest by a Masters champion and he also matched the lowest score to par by any champion at any major. His final round started a little shaky with bogeys on 4 and 5, opening up questions about another major collapse, but Johnson finished in style, not making another bogey the rest of the way and making birdies on 6, 8, 13, 14 and 15 to pull away from the competition and set the record.
It was a far cry from when he three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole to lose the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and it was nothing like the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straights when Johnson missed a playoff because he grounded his club in an unkempt sandy patch on 18 that was ruled a bunker and Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty. It was also nothing like his U.S. Open win in 2016 that was shrouded in controversy because the USGA didn't rule whether Johnson caused his ball to move on the 5th hole and would face a one-stroke penalty until after the round. They did assess the penalty even though Johnson said he didn't cause his ball to move and he won by three strokes.
There was no controversy this time, however. All of the adversity Johnson faced along the way prepared him for this moment, for this round. His five runner-up finishes at major championships, his Sunday blow-ups with the lead, the questionable rulings that went against him, none of it matters anymore. All that does is Johnson is a record-setting Masters champion who doesn't have to answer for the issues that plagued him in the past because, after all, that's where they lie now. In the past.