By Brian Keogh
Padraig Harrington’s Masters dream sank in a watery grave at Augusta’s fearsome 15th as Zach Johnson claimed his first Major title.
The American carded six birdies and three bogeys a superb final round 69 to finish two clear of Rory Sabbatini, Retief Goosen and a faltering Tiger Woods on one over par.
Dubliner Harrington looked set to make a charge for his first major crown when he birdied the 12th and eagled the 13th to get to within two shots of the lead at the Cathedral of Pines.
But birdies by Johnson at the 14th and 16th closed the door on the Irishman, who found himself a hopeless five shots behind after another splashdown at the 530-yard par-five cost him a sickening bogey six.
Left with a five-wood from the top of the hill, Harrington hit a towering shot that landed three feet from glory but slipped back into the obscurity of the pond fronting the green.
The hole - known as Firethorn - was a real thorn in Harrington’s side all week as it cost him five precious shots.
While he made birdie there in his superb second round 68, a triple bogey eight on Thursday followed by a seven on Saturday and that Sunday six proved to be too high a price to pay.
A bogey at the 16th, where he overshot the green, definitively ended Harrington’s hopes and while he birdied the 17th he eventually finished four shots behind the winner in a share of seventh place with Stuart Appleby on five over par after a closing 73.
Just two shots behind leader Appleby on four over par with a round to play, Harrington was on the back foot all day after a bogey at the first and another dropped shot the par three fourth.
The putts simply failed to drop for the doughty Dubliner and he was a bit-part player for most of the day as host of players battled for the lead on a roller-coaster afternoon.
South African Rory Sabbatini was the first to make a move with two birdies and an outrageous eagle three in the first eight holes before Johnson eventually took control.
Harrington played steady golf on the front nine but while he failed to take advantage of the par five eighth and then missed a ticklish 20 footer for birdie at the ninth, he headed into the fabled back nine just four shots off the lead, held by Retief Goosen at the time.
European eyes were soon fixed on Paul Casey, who was eight over par starting the day and nine over after a bogey at the fifth.
The Ryder Cup hero caught fire over the final ten holes, picking up birdies at the eighth, 10th, 14th and 16th to get within three shots of Goosen on five over.
But he dropped shots on the 17th and 18th and had to settle for a 71, which gave him the clubhouse lead on seven over par.
Goosen eventually carded a three under par 69 to set the clubhouse target of three over par and was soon matched by Sabbatini, who also shot 69 with a birdie at last.
Harrington needed something to happen and fast but he went the other way instead, missing from 12 feet for par at the 11th to drift to seven over and four off the lead.
The European No 1 showed his fighting qualities at the treacherous par three 12th, with a sensational seven iron to just seven feet putting him back to six over par
But Johnson soon took control at the head of affairs.
A birdie by the American Ryder Cup ace at the 13th meant that he took the lead on two over and left Harrington four behind again and needing birdies over the closing six holes.
Harrington hit back with a tremendous eagle three at the 13th, firing his approach to just 10 feet to move back to level for the day.
That moved Harrington up to third place with Sabbatini, Jerry Kelly and Rose but still left him three shots off the lead as Johnson birdied the 14th to get to one over.
Woods had a quiet day - starting bogey-birdie and then dropping further shots at the sixth and tenth - before roaring into the frame with an eagle at the 13th.
The world No 1 had smashed his four-iron in two, wrapping it around a tree after a wild drive at the par-four 11th.
But he produced a sensational approach to the 13th, which appeared to stop on the top tier of the green before slowly trickling down the green to two feet.
While Johnson birdied the 16th and bogeyed the 17th before saving par at the last to set the target of one over par with a brave 69, Woods and Rose were left needing miracles to force a play-off.
Woods found water at the 15th but saved par and then missed a gilt-edged birdie chance at the 16th to leave Rose as Johnson’s nearest challenger on two over par with two to play.
But the Englishman suffered a meltdown at the 17th, running up a double bogey six that left him three adrift of Johnson alongside Kelly in joint fifth on four over par.
Woods eventually parred the last for a 72 to finish second with Goosen and Sabbatini on three over.