(Reuters) – While 2020 was an annus horribilis for the vast majority of people, Dustin Johnson was a rare exception.
In the year COVID-19 brought the world to its knees, the American reclaimed his place as golf’s leading player, shrugged off his own brush with the virus, and won the rescheduled Masters in stunning style.
The pandemic decimated the golfing calendar, with dozens of events cancelled, including the Open Championship, the sport’s oldest major, which was not held for the first time since 1945.
The PGA Championship, won by Collin Morikawa in August, was the only major played in the 2019-20 season. The Masters and U.S. Open were moved to the end of 2020 and made part of the 2020-21 season, with the Ryder Cup also pushed to next year.
Johnson, who cemented his place as one of the best of his generation, won the second major title of his career despite testing positive for the virus a month before teeing off at Augusta National in November.
He emerged from golf’s three-month hiatus in sparkling form, winning the Travelers Championship when play resumed in June with fans barred. He also led the PGA Championship after 54 holes before settling for a share of second place.
Johnson regained the world’s top ranking after winning the Northern Trust Open, claimed his first FedEx Cup at East Lake in September, and was named PGA Tour Player of the Year for a second time.
Yet the 36-year-old saved his best for last, winning the Masters with a 20-under-par 268 total to set a tournament-record low score.
“I know 2020 has been a really strange year, but it’s been good to me,” Johnson said. “As a kid, you dream of putting on the green jacket.”
While Augusta gave Johnson the chance to fulfil his childhood dream, it proved a nightmare for Tiger Woods.
The 15-time major champion’s hopes of defending the title he won to such acclaim last year ended in despair when he struck a 10 on the par-three 12th hole on the final day.
Woods also missed the cut at the rescheduled U.S. Open in September and finished in a tie for 37th place at the PGA Championship.
THE INCREDIBLE BULK
Johnson showed mental toughness in 2020, but Bryson DeChambeau took a different route to success, spending lockdown in the gym and packing on about 30 pounds (14 kg) of muscle.
The hard work resulted in a powerful new swing that helped DeChambeau bludgeon his way to a six-shot victory at the U.S. Open for his maiden major title.
The 27-year-old’s brawny approach did not work quite as well at the Masters, however, where he finished well back in the pack despite arriving as the favourite.
Across the pond, Englishman Lee Westwood ended the year as the European Tour’s top golfer for the third time after winning the Race to Dubai.
Four of the five Ladies Professional Golf Association majors went ahead, with the Evian Championship cancelled, and the women’s tour crowned a first-time major champion at each of them.
Sophia Popov started the trend by winning the British Open in August to become Germany’s first female major winner, before South Korea’s Mirim Lee continued it with victory at the ANA Inspiration the following month.
Lee’s compatriot Kim Sei-young won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in October and Kim A Lim, also from South Korea, pulled off a thrilling come-from-behind victory at the U.S. Women’s Open in December.
Golf mourned several deaths in 2020, including 13-times major champion Mickey Wright (85), the only LPGA golfer to hold all major titles at the same time, and former Ryder Cup player and commentator Peter Alliss (89).
The sport also lost course designer Pete Dye (94) and 20-times PGA Tour winner Doug Sanders (86).
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis