Tournament of Champions grades: Dustin Johnson laps elite field to kick off 2018
The No. 1 player in the world played like it this week in Maui
Dustin Johnson torched a terrific 34-player field at the year-opening Tournament of Champions this week by shooting 24-under 268 over four days in Kapalua, Hawaii. That number was eight (!) better than runner-up Jon Rahm and nine better than third-place finisher Brian Harman.
It was Johnson's first victory of the season, his second win at Kapalua and the 17th title of his career. With the victory, he became only the 10th player in history to win in 11 consecutive PGA Tour seasons, joining names like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
The superlatives don't stop there. Johnson is one of the great drivers of all time, and he had one of the great driving weeks of his career. He nearly aced the par-4 12th on back-to-back days, and he gained 4.09 strokes on the field on Sunday with his driver alone. To put this in perspective, the third-best drive in the field (Jon Rahm) gained 4.5 strokes ... for the week.
"My misses are ... they're not off line," Johnson told Todd Lewis of Golf Channel. "I have a lot of confidence in it. Even with all these crosswinds, I got no worries about where the ball's going to go. It's going right where I'm looking every time, and that's a good feeling for me."
I'm sure it is. What makes Johnson really good is, obviously, that driver. But what makes him great (and possibly historic) is that he has figured out how to score after placing it where he wants. Johnson finished top 10 in the field for the week around the green and with the putter. That's why his back nine Sunday will not be nominated for best drama of 2018.
"I knew I was playing well," Johnson told Golf Channel. "It's a golf course I'm really comfortable on. I've really been driving it well this week. I knew as long as I could keep doing that then I was going to play well. I made the turn, I was at 20 under, I told myself the goal was to get to 25 [under]."
He nearly did. Johnson's 8-stroke victory is tied for the second-highest in tournament history.
He was profound among the current elites of the game. Not one or two of them, but large swaths of the best players on earth. Johnson chewed them up and spit out another easy victory. They have come so effortlessly to him during the past three years. That's eight since the start of 2016, and it's not difficult to imagine several more falling as this year unfolds.
In golf, we do this thing where we take whoever is winning and lionize their game. How do they ever lose, we ask. This is silly, of course, because professional golf is a loser's game. If you lose only 90 percent of the time, that makes you one of the best to ever play.
But still, as Johnson loped around Kapalua's slopes and declined across the finish line, it was tough not to think that very thought. How does this freak of nature not win every time he tees it up? With missiles flying all over Maui and D.J. fingering another trophy, I know he won't actually win every event he plays in 2018. But the 17-time winner, more than maybe anyone else in the world, subsequently makes me think another thought I rarely think. He could. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the Tournament of Champions.
Jordan Spieth (9th): Spieth was terrific throughout, other than a 75 in the first round. He was all but out of it after that 18-hole speed bump, but he battled back and made only four bogeys in the next 54 holes. The good news for Spieth is that it was his putter that let him down this week. There are no signs of that No. 1-ranked ball-striking from last season going anywhere, and the putter will undoubtedly be fine. If he keeps hitting it like he's hitting it, he'll win multiple times merely by being average on the greens. One downside to the week: Spieth ended his three-year run of finishing in the top three here. Grade: B
Jon Rahm (2nd): Be afraid. Rahm's game travels better than George Clooney's character in Up In The Air. He was my pick this week (had to slide that in!), and a win would have meant Rahm victories in San Diego, Ireland, Dubai and Hawaii in the past 12 months. He is terrifyingly good and only getting better. Grade: A
Tournament of Champions: This event attracted the top five players in the world and got a win from the No. 1 player in the world for only the fourth time in its history. It legitimately shined, if only in its corner of the sports world, on a weekend where football is still dominant. When you can combine the scenery with some great golf with as many elite players as this tournament had, that's always a win. Grade: A
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