After Match Play, can anyone beat Dustin Johnson?
March 27, 2017 05:38 PM
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Dustin Johnson has been around long enough to realize he's not going to win every golf tournament he plays.
It's just getting harder to find a candidate to stop him.
Zach Johnson advanced out of his group in the Dell Technologies Match Play and faced Dustin Johnson, whom he referred to not only as the best player in the world, but "probably playing as good as anybody has ever played in the last month."
That was high praise, and Dustin Johnson keeps backing it up.
In the longest week of the year — seven matches over five days — and one of the toughest tournaments to win because match play is so unpredictable, Johnson delivered the outcome everyone expected Sunday at Austin Country Club.
He made it tougher than it needed to be. It lasted longer that he wanted.
The final act was to hold off a remarkable charge by Jon Rahm, a 22-year-old Spanish rookie who never saw a shot that scared him. Rahm took Johnson to the 18th hole and needed a birdie to force overtime, only for the bathroom door of a portable toilet to slam right as he was hitting a delicate chip. It came up short, leaving an impossible birdie putt, and Johnson emerged with a 1-up victory.
That makes three straight victories for Johnson against the toughest fields of the year.
Johnson won in the rain at Riviera, where he was on pace to shatter the tournament scoring record until he eased back the throttle and settled for a five-shot victory. He won in 7,800 feet of altitude in Mexico City, and then he saved his best work for perhaps the toughest tournament to win.
Even though he was taken the distance twice on Sunday — a 1-up victory over Hideto Tanihara in the semifinals and a 1-up victory over Rahm in the final match — there was no denying the dominance of Johnson.
He never trailed over 112 holes in seven matches.
He won the opening hole in six straight matches, and never even heard the referee say, "The match is all square" until Johnson had played 71 holes. And in a tournament record that will be tough to top, Johnson led after 94 percent of the holes he played — 105 out of 112.
"What am I going to say that you guys don't know?" Rahm said. "If his putter had been hot, I wouldn't have had a chance, no question. ... It's amazing how he's able to keep cool the entire round. It amazes me. And he's just a perfect, complete player."
Johnson now has 15 victories in his career, six of them dating to his first major at the U.S. Open last summer at Oakmont. Three of them were World Golf Championships at the Bridgestone Invitational, the Mexico Championship and the Match Play. He won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in 2013.
That makes him the first player to capture all four World Golf Championships.
Asked to size up his feat, Johnson said, "Pretty good."
He's not for a lot of words. The question at times is if Johnson even has a pulse.
"It's beating," he said Saturday, pausing for effect before adding, "Not very fast. Sometimes it gets going pretty good. It just depends if I'm walking up a steep hill."
As for his pulse on Sunday when the matches were in doubt until the end?
"It got a little faster than I would have liked," he said.
Johnson was 4 up with six holes to play when Rahm, a bold Spanish rookie with a big game, hit driver over the water and onto the 13th green to win the hole with a birdie. He stuck a wedge close on the 15th for another birdie. Rahm hit a shot through the trees on the 16th and won the hole with a 30-foot birdie. And just like that, he was 1 down with two holes to play.
Rahm's comeback, however, fell short. Playing the 356-yard 18th hole for the first time in competition all week, and needing a birdie to send this heavyweight bout to overtime, Rahm smashed driver over the back of the green. But his chip down the slope checked up and stayed short of the ridge, leaving him a downhill putt that broke so sharply that he aimed nearly at a 90-degree angle away from the hole. He did well to make par.
Johnson came up just short of the green, chipped close and rolled in it to complete another big week.
"That was a tough day, a long day," Johnson said. "I'm proud of the way I played, the way I hung in there."
Johnson said in Mexico that his name — but not his exclusively — is one that nobody wants to see on the leaderboard. When asked if he is intimidating, he always says that's for other players to determine.
"If I'm playing my best," he said, "yeah, I'll play against anybody, anytime."
The Masters is in two weeks.
By DOUG FERGUSON
Updated: March 27, 2017 05:38 PM
(Copyright 2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)