Johnson Prevails Up North


EDMONTON, AB -- When he captured his first Canadian Tour event earlier this season, Rob Johnson thought maybe he had backed his way into the title. This time, there will be no doubt.
With the top of the leaderboard looking like rush-hour gridlock midway through Sundays final round of the TELUS Edmonton Open, Johnson pulled away on the back side, coming in with a 2-under 69. His 72-hole total of 11-under 273 was two shots better than rookie Dustin Risdon of Calgary. Stuart Anderson of Edmonton, Aussie Scott Hend as well as Americans Jason Enloe and Dave Christensen tied for third at 8-under 276.
For Johnson, the first two-time winner on Tour this season, this one will taste a lot sweeter than his first triumph six months ago at the Canadian Tour Challenge. In Austin, Mother Nature may have just as well engraved her name alongside his on the championship trophy after torrential rains pounded Barton Creek Resort for two days, shortening the event to 36 holes. It was the first time in Tour history that a 72-hole event had been slashed to two rounds.
Well, I held up for four days here, and maybe some people thought I wouldnt have done it in Austin, said the 30-year-old, who met his wife Julie at a Tour stop in Ottawa during his 1998 rookie season. I stayed calm all week, like I promised myself I would, and that is something I havent done over the past couple of tournaments. The first win was great, but two times in the same year- I tell you, that sounds even better.
After an even-par 35 on the front side left him trailing Enloe by two strokes, Johnson kicked into gear with birdies on numbers 11 and 13. With those around him seemingly giving in under the pressure, Johnson put an exclamation point on the day with a six-foot birdie putt on 17 that gave him a three-shot edge on Risdon, who had lingered around the 18th green, hoping against hope for a playoff. A cautious bogey on the final hole was more than enough to move Johnson into top spot on the Order of Merit with $50,850 in earnings.
I figured if I made that putt (on 17) I would be fine, added Johnson. If you are on the 18th tee tied or even with a one-shot lead, it can be pretty intimidating. Anytime you can win out here twice in a year, you get the feeling you can win anywhere.
The 450-yard, par-4 final hole was the toughest at Windermere, yielding a 4.35 scoring average for the week.
With just two Tour events under his belt, Risdon is showing signs that he has no intention of cracking under the rookie pressure. Playing a few hours from his hometown and with a supportive gallery cheering his every shot, the 22-year-old answered the bell to quietly slip into 18th spot on the money list. Risdon had a chance to put the heat on Johnson late but, playing three groups in front, couldnt get birdie putts inside 20 feet on the final two holes to drop.
If those putts had fallen, maybe things would have been different, he said. But not a bad finish for my second tournament. I had a good feeling coming in and felt I could do it. I just couldnt quite finish it off.
One year after suffering a heartbreaking playoff loss to Matt Daniel in Edmonton, Anderson threw a scare into the leaders, posting a 5-under 66 while the frontrunners were still on the front nine. He was 6-under for the day on the back side but a bogey-5 on the final hole all but dashed any dreams for his first Tour win. Starting the day in 20th spot, Anderson was through 3-under through four holes to throw himself into the mix.
I was looking at the scoreboard all day, he reasoned. It was close. I had a chance to win, but it didnt go as planned.
It would almost seem that Johnson is making side deals with local weathermen in Austin and Edmonton. The skies were ominous over Windermere G&CC for most of the afternoon Sunday, and as Johnson walked up to his approach shot on the final hole, thunder began to rumble just outside the front gates. Seconds after the award ceremony on the 18th green, the heavens opened, producing a downpour, lightning and golf ball-sized hail.
I was sitting on 18 fairway and thinking, Man, this would really suck, laughed Johnson in reference to a possible suspension of play.
Christensen, who has four second-place showings in the past two seasons, was another interested spectator in the players lounge Sunday after carding a 66 of his own two hours before the final group wrapped up. At one point, six players were in the house or on the course at 8-under, just two shots off the pace. The Canadian Tour record for most golfers in a playoff is six, set at the 2001 TELUS Vancouver Open. Once Risdon came in at 9-under and Johnson began to find the mark on the back nine, however, the only issue left to resolve was how many would end up tied for third.
Jon Mills of Oshawa, ON, who nailed down his first pro win at last weeks MTS Classic, was probably the happiest guy at Windermere Sunday, and it had nothing to do with his 26th- place finish. Earlier in the day, Ben Curtis, his good friend and former Kent State University teammate, shocked the world by winning the British Open across the pond. Mills spent most of the morning in the clubhouse, his eyes glued to the televisions screen, before going to the practice range to shag balls in preparation for his round. Just minutes before he pegged it up, the 25-year-old Mills returned to see his friend win one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world.
I was thinking about it all day today, and I guess I wasnt in the best mental state out there, smiled Mills. Its awesome to think about all he is going to have to deal with now, how much his life is about to change. I remembered how great I felt last week (in Winnipeg) and you can multiply what he is feeling by about a hundred. Ill try to get in touch with him tonight, but I have a hunch his mailbox might be a little full.
NOTES: Arden Knoll was in a laughing mood Sunday after a 7th place tie, despite being just one shot behind as play began. Every time I made a birdie, Id make a bogey, he said before adding tongue in cheek, I played really well except for the holes I made bogey on. Knoll has only played in a pair of Tour events since 2001, one year after a freak accident in which a hornet bite cost him 80 per cent vision in his right eyeMichael Harris, who wound up tied for 7th with Knoll, remains in second spot on the money list despite not having a win this yearThe Tour now moves west for this weeks Victoria Open, with all four rounds being broadcast live on The Golf Channel.
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