Dustin Johnson: King of the 54-hole Tournaments

Dustin Johnson accomplished a pretty amazing feat on Tuesday. Not only did he win the wind-shortened Hyundai Tournament of Champion at Kapalua on Maui, he also won the rain-shortened 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the hurricane-shortened 2011 Barclays in New Jersey. There have been three 54-hole tournaments in three years and Johnson won them all.

Before the tournament could get underway, he was being interviewed on the Golf Channel and the interviewer asked about the implications of it becoming a 54-hole event. And prophetically he said something like, “Well, I’ve had some success in 54-hole events.” Little did he know. 

He began the day with a 3-shot lead, shot 5-under 68 on the day and won by four shots over Steve Stricker. Stricker got within one shot when Johnson blew it into the bushes and made a double on 13…but then chipped it in for eagle on 14 and that was the final nail in the coffin.

What I found interesting was that Sticker was actually coaching him on strategy after the 13th hole, which is quintessentially what good guy Stricker would do. I would have expected a conversation like the following after a couple of beers at the next tournament, but it was a big surprise that it took place while they were still playing the final few holes:

He’s an impressive player, has a lot of talent.  Hits the ball a mile.  But as I was talking to him out there, I was like:  “Dude, what are you doing?”  He took out driver on a couple holes and he let me back in the game.

But that was after he chipped in for eagle on 14 and we are walking up 15, and I was like:  “Why don’t you take an iron out, make me having to make birdies instead of you hitting it in the trees and opening it up for me.”

And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, I know.”

But he’s got a lot of talent, and he’s got, it looks like very little fear in him, because he’ll hit one a little crooked but he’ll pull out that driver again and try it again.  And he pulled it off.  Especially at 14, that was the deciding shot and chip for the tournament.

He’s got a lot of talent.  What, he just tied Tiger today, didn’t he?  So that’s pretty impressive.  Expect a lot of good things as he continues his career.

Not since Tiger Woods did it, has a player gone straight from college and won in each of his first six years on Tour. Now we have to wait a whole year to see if he can keep it going; this win will get him back into the Hyundai again next year.

Stricker played good, just not good enough. Uncharacteristically for one of the Tour’s top putters, he missed some short putts early in the round and just wasn’t able to get them back. He shot 4-under 69.

Brandt Snedeker made a serious run early in the round with three birdies and an eagle, but then he bogeyed 7, 8 and 9 to take the steam out of the kettle. Still, he also shot 4-under on the day and finished two back of Stricker.

Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson finished a stroke back of Snedeker, Bradley with uncharacteristic mediocre putting and Watson with flu symptoms.

The low round of the day belonged to Rickie Fowler at 6-under 67 and that was with a double on 17.

Fowler was very interesting all week because he was the guy that got to hit the first tee shot of the season three times: Friday and Saturday’s cancelled rounds and the one on Sunday that finally counted. And the reason that he was interesting was that he seemed completely at peace and secure in himself. He wasn’t the young upstart anymore.

He got a couple of interviews joking about the false starts and his bearing was confident and very matter-of-fact. The thing about Rickie is that he’s not a kid anymore, he’s 24 years old (how did that happen so fast?). And with that and his first victory last year, he may have just started to think of himself as a man who belongs.

He could have some good tournaments this year if that keeps up. Magic happens when you start to believe in the possibility — and inevitability — of your talent.

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