Johnson’s Power Overcomes Plantation Course at TOC
By Rodney S. Yap
In the end, Dustin Johnson made one of the most difficult weeks in PGA Tour history look easy.
Unleashing phenomenal power off the tee and improved short-iron game, the 28-year-old Johnson overcame Mother Nature, the pressure of a final round, and 29 other champions to win the season-opening Hyundai Tournament at Kapalua.
Johnson closed out the weather-shortened 54-hole tournament at the Plantation Course with a 5-under 68 that earned him a four-shot victory over defending champion Steve Stricker, who came within one stroke with five holes to play.
The laid-back Johnson played with a quiet confidence and superstar-like swagger down the stretch after a pair of drives — at Nos. 9 and 12 — landed in native areas and cost him three shots.
But Johnson, who had already weathered three days of unplayable conditions after arriving early and playing six practice rounds with his new Taylor Made R1 driver and Rocket Bladez Tour irons, was unfazed by the setbacks, troubleshooting with an eagle-2 on the par-4 14th hole.
The 17-yard chip shot, uphill, into the grain drilled the flagstick before settling into the hole. The shot was set up by Johnson’s 267-yard drive into the teeth of the West Maui Mountain trade winds gusting at more than 30 mph. It was the kind of signature shot — aggressive and accurate — that he did not hesitate to use over the 29 hours it took to finish the event.
Johnson said the win, his seventh career PGA Tour victory, confirms the hard work and progress he’s made with his swing coach Butch Harmon.
“It gives me a lot of confidence going into this year,” Johnson added. “I’m very pleased to come out and get a win this week. I played some really good golf the last two days. It was tough to stay aggressive with a three-shot lead today, but I think I stayed aggressive all day. I hit a couple of bad drivers that cost me two shots, but otherwise I thought I played really good golf.”
Johnson, who was ranked fourth in driving distance (310.2 yards) and eighth in scoring (69.56) in 2012, is the third consecutive American to win the Hyundai at Kapalua, following nine European champions.
After the trophy presentation on the 18th green, Johnson tweeted: “Yes sir!!! Big win today!! Got a little close at 13 but pulled it out in style! Looking forward to next week! Aloha!”
He also thanked the fans on his Twitter page @DJohnsonPGA: “I knew I loved Hawaii!! THANKS to all the fans that came out for this crazy weekend/week of golf! It was sooo worth it! #Aloha.”
Stricker said Johnson rebounded well from his mistakes.
“I hit some good putts early in the round and some on the backside, too, but all-in-all it was a good round,” said Stricker, who turns 46 next month. “He played well when he had to and gave me a couple of openings with a couple of wayward drives, but he came back strong by making eagle and chipping in at 14. I knew it was going to be tough today, but I gave him a little bit of a run for a little while.”
It also marks the third time Johnson has won a weather-shortened event. He won the 2011 Barclays and the 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, both of which were shortened to 54 holes because of rain.
Johnson is now the first player since Tiger Woods to go straight from college and win in each of his first six years on the PGA Tour.
The Tuesday finish was the first on the PGA TOUR since Ben Curtis’ victory at the 2006 Booz Allen Classic.
On Monday, Johnson made his 66 look uncommonly easy. The longest putt he made was eight feet and that was for par. He two-putted for birdie on three holes and chipped within four feet three more times. On the final hole, he launched a 6-iron 243 yards and capped the round with an eagle-3.
Johnson had nine top-10s last year, including a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic that got him the Hyundai invitation.
“He’s such a good player and he’s got length on his side and he’s got a lot of talent,” said Stricker, who battled pains in his left leg and walked with a noticeable limp for two days.
Twenty of the 30 players from Hyundai are headed to Oahu after Tuesday for the first full-field event of the year. The Sony Open in Hawaii starts Thursday at Waialae Country Club.
Johnson Wagner, who won at Waialae last year, finished tied for 13th at 1 under 216. He was ninth at Kapalua a year ago.
NOTES: Dustin Johnson is dating Paulina Gretzky, daughter of NHL great Wayne Gretzky, according to Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck, who reported the two were getting rather friendly recently on Maui. Shipnuck said Johnson was spending quality time with Gretzky after arriving on the Valley Isle early for his six practice rounds. . . Johnson updated his Twitter page with a photo of him on No. 18 at the Plantation Course . . . Johnson tweeted: “The new r1 driver and rocket blades debut were pretty good. Love the new stuff.”
HYUNDAI TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS SCOREBOARD
|POS||PLAYER||T0 PAR||R1||R2||R3||TOT||ERNGS||FEDEX PTS|
|T26||Ted Potter, Jr.||+4||75||75||73||223||$67,000||45|