Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Johnson Next Top U.S. Hope? Masters Winner Gives Boost to Younger Players Trying to Chase Tiger

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Johnson Next Top U.S. Hope? Masters Winner Gives Boost to Younger Players Trying to Chase Tiger

Article excerpt

Byline: GARRY SMITS

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Zach Johnson proved there are American players - young American players, to be more specific - who can not only win majors, but answer the burning question: Why haven't these "young guns" put more heat on Tiger Woods to emerge as the next great golf generation in the country.

Winning the Masters might not resolve all the questions. But for Johnson, 31, it proves that there are championship American golfers not only on the horizon, but here now to challenge the world's best.

Part of the problem is that as Americans, Johnson and his closest peers on the PGA Tour were going to be compared to the world's best: Woods and Phil Mickelson, to be specific.

But Johnson's two-shot victory Sunday at the Augusta National Golf Club, thanks to a final-round 69 that matched the best 18-hole score of the weekend, may have taken care of some of those perceptions that he and his generation were underachieving.

"Comparing me to Tiger, obviously I've struggled," Johnson said. "I feel like I've been pretty secure out here on the PGA Tour and to say that's a struggle, it's maybe a little misleading. Comparing myself to the most phenomenal athlete in golf, that the world has ever seen, is misleading. But I'm good enough to take home a green jacket."

With the exception of Ben Curtis' surprise British Open victory in 2003, Johnson and his fellow PGA Tour players in their late 20s and early 30s haven't exactly been treated kindly by the media and fans.

They came out of college with great promise (although Johnson without much fanfare from Drake University), such as Charles Howell III (Oklahoma State), Bubba Watson (Georgia), Heath Slocum (South Alabama), J.J. Henry (Texas Christian), Lucas Glover (Clemson), David Gossett (Texas), J.B Holmes (Kentucky), Bubba Dickerson of Fernandina Beach (Florida), Vaughn Taylor (Augusta State) and Jason Gore (Pepperdine).

While they may have elicited some rays of hope - Gossett and Holmes won on the PGA Tour in their first professional seasons; Gore won three times on the Nationwide Tour and the PGA Tour in 2005; Howell won more than $1 million in 2001 by playing on sponsor exemptions and Johnson was the Nationwide Tour player of the year in 2003 and won on the PGA Tour the next year - they had not taken the next step toward winning consistently. …

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