Grades: Dustin Johnson wins third straight event, fifth WGC tournament overall
The No. 1 golfer on the planet is proving that title is well deserved
Dustin Johnson played 112 holes at the 2017 WGC-Dell Match Play Championship. He never trailed in any of his seven matches. Johnson won his third consecutive tournament on Sunday in Austin, Texas, with a 1-up victory against Jon Rahm in the final after defeating Hideto Tanihara 1-up in the semifinals.
His match with Rahm was a roller coaster. Johnson brought the heat early and went 5-up over the first eight holes. Rahm closed like a boss, though, and made birdie at three of the last six holes to narrow the gap. It wasn’t enough. Johnson needed a par on the last hole, got it and held his fifth career WGC trophy. That number is second only to Tiger Woods, who has 18 such titles to his name.
“I didn’t give him any holes excpet for 10,” Johnson told NBC’s Steve Sands of his match with Rahm. “It was tough out there. The greens got fast. Jon played really well. I didn’t give him anything. I’m playing pretty well. Today was a really tough day. I’m proud of the way I played and stayed in there.”
Johnson made only three birdies against Rahm, but he was terrific in all seven of his matches. He led for 105 of those 112 holes, which is just outrageous considering how many quality golfers he faced.
Johnson blazed through his group of Jimmy Walker, Martin Kaymer and Webb Simpson (all major championship winners) before beating Zach Johnson (two more majors) in the Round of 16, Alex Noren in the quarterfinals and Hideto Tanihara in the semifinals with some clutch putting on the final two holes.
He has become the first golfer to win all four of the current WGCs.
This is the first time a PGA Tour golfer has won three tournaments in a row since Rory McIlroy took The Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship in the summer of 2014.
It isn’t unexpected given Johnson’s pedigree (he has 15 PGA Tour wins), but it’s impressive that Johnson took over the No. 1 spot in the world and pressed on the gas. Rarely does the No. 1 golfer in the world play this way once he assumes the throne.
Johnson went to No. 1 after winning the Genesis Open at the end of February. He has won twice since then, taking home this week’s event as well as the WGC-Mexico Championship. To get to No. 1, you have to play fantastic golf. Staying there is so difficult except, apparently, when you’re Dustin Johnson.
There is no question now. Johnson is the favorite for the 2017 Masters. I don’t know that Las Vegas will agree with me, but I know what I’ve seen. That doesn’t mean he’ll win it, but after his show in Austin all week against some of the world’s best, it has become clear nobody on the planet is playing the same kind of golf as D.J. Grade: A+
Jordan Spieth (Lost in group play): Spieth went 1-1-1 on the week. I don’t put a ton of stock into these individual matches, but this has to be a tad disconcerting for Spieth. He was all out of sorts in his opening match with Hideto Tanihara.
“I knew after Round 1, I wasn’t in control of my own destiny anymore, so that was the disappointing day,” Spieth said later in the week. “I made some good progress the last couple of days. After a two-week break, historically, I’ve been a little rough to start. Then it gets better. The guy that beat me on Wednesday is a really solid player who is on top of his game right now. He’s not missing many shots. He only had one bad swing against me.”
This is true. Tanihara went on to finish fourth on the week, which got him into the Masters. It wasn’t all lost for Spieth on the week, though. “I was able to see some tendencies and I can adjust for them and that’s what you are trying to do as far as building momentum towards next week and then the Masters,” the 2015 Masters champion said.
This is a sort-of hometown event for Spieth where you know he wanted to thrive, but he came up empty instead. His grade for this tournament is not indicative of what I think about his chances for the upcoming Masters. Grade: D
Jon Rahm (Runner-up): Three weeks ago, Rahm fired off a tweet at Johnson after Johnson clipped him by two strokes following a late Sunday charge by Rahm. The tweet said Rahm wanted another run at the No. 1 player in the world, possibly at Augusta National.
Rahm got his rematch two weeks earlier than he predicted. He narrowly lost again. Is this all setting up for one more heads-up matchup at Augusta?
Rahm made seven birdies in 16 holes in the first semifinal his semifinal against Bill Haas. He also took down Sergio Garcia to win his group on Friday and Charles Howell III and Soren Kjeldsen in elimination play. “He’s a great player,” Johnson said after holding off Rahm. “He’s got a lot of potential. He’s going to be a great player for a long time.”
Rahm certainly emptied the tank this weekend with a 438-yard drive and this improbable shot through the trees on a hole where he turned an atrocious tee shot into a birdie. The kid is 100 percent Spain. From the recovery shots to the Grade-A swagger, he’s not to be trifled with. It will be fascinating to see what he does in his first trip to Augusta National. Grade: A
Phil Mickelson (Lost in quarterfinals): Mickelson is in full prep-for-the-Masters mode at this point. He tore through group play before lighting up Marc Leishman in the Round of 16 and falling to Bill Haas in the quarterfinals.
Mickelson will play the Shell Houston Open next week.
“I’m certainly looking forward to going [to Houston],” Mickelson said. “I do have the Houston Open beforehand, and I feel as though the way I’m playing I’d like to get myself in contention. I’d like to give myself an opportunity to win and compete because I think that’s the best way for me to be my sharpest and be at my best for the Masters.”
Mickelson has had a pretty terrific beginning to his 2017, which could lead to one of the most improbable victories of his career: winning the Masters at the age of 46. Grade: A-
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