Grades: Dustin Johnson wins third straight event, fifth WGC tournament overall

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-

Getty Images. Johnson completed the set of WGC events with Match Play triumph


Dustin Johnson fights off Jon Rahm to continue winning run

World No.1 Dustin Johnson overcame spirited resistance from Spain's Jon Rahm to make history by winning the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, his third tournament victory in succession.

Johnson became the first player to have won all four World Golf Championship events by beating Rahm by one hole in a dramatic final at Austin Country Club.

The 32-year-old never trailed at any point in his seven matches and was only taken beyond the 16th hole for the first time in a hard-fought semi-final victory over Japan's Hideto Tanihara.

But he was also made to work hard to secure the first prize of #1.3million in the final as Rahm, who was trying to become the youngest winner of a WGC event, fought back from five down after eight holes to take the contest to the 18th.

Rahm missed good birdie chances on the first two holes and fell behind with a bogey on the third after finding thick rough off the tee, before compounding that mistake by three-putting the next.

It looked as though the 22-year-old would escape with a half on the short fifth after his chip from the side of the green hit the pin, but he missed from four feet after conceding Johnson's birdie putt.

Another birdie on the sixth extended Johnson's lead and it would have been even bigger but for Rahm holing from 25 feet for par on the seventh after hitting his long birdie putt off the green.

However, Rahm's frustration was mounting rapidly and he kicked his driver along the ground in frustration after a wayward drive on the next led to another loss and a five-hole deficit.

Rahm, who beat American Bill Haas 3&2 in their semi-final, was handed a lifeline when Johnson bogeyed the ninth and 10th, and although the US Open champion bounced back to birdie the par-five 12th, Rahm drove the green on the short 13th and two-putted for his first birdie of the day.

A birdie on the 15th was followed by a remarkable one on the 16th, Rahm hitting his second shot seemingly straight through a tree before holing from 30 feet to get back to just one down.

Extra holes looked on the cards when Rahm drove to the back edge of the 18th green, but a terrible chip took the pressure off Johnson and he safely made par from the fringe to secure the title.

Johnson and Tiger Woods are the only players with five or more WGC titles and although Woods won an incredible 18, the former world number one failed to collect the HSBC Champions trophy in his only two appearances.

Haas beat Tanihara 2&1 in the play-off for third place, although Tanihara had the thrill of making a hole-in-one on the seventh.

Rahm appeared to have been distracted by a noise from the crowd as he hit his second shot on 18, telling Sky Sports: "It's not an easy chip but I could have had a 12-footer for birdie and maybe win the hole.

"For something like that to happen is really unfortunate. I understand if I miss the shot, but if something in a moment that's so quiet happens it makes it feel a little worse because it's something that I can't control.

"It feels so bad because of all the work I did on the back nine to come from five down to almost have a chance.

"It's a lot of positives to take out of this week so I'll be sad for a couple of minutes but then I'll be fine. I'm really proud of what I did, it was a great week.

"I'm thrilled I'm going to have a chance to maybe play in the Ryder Cup. It's just the beginning of the season so it's all good to come."
Johnson, who is favourite to win a second major title in the upcoming Masters, added: "This was a tough one, a tough match against Jon.

"I gave him 10 when I three-putted but that was about the only hole I gave him, he played tough. He's a great player, he's going to be a great player out here for a long time.

"I've got a lot of confidence in the game right now, feel like I am driving the ball great, I'm wedging it well. I can work on the mid-irons a bit but we can work on those next week after I take a couple of days off."


DJ tops Rahm in finals of WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

Dustin Johnson claims career WGC grand slam at Dell Match Play

In the final matches of the 2017 World Golf Championships - Dell Technologies Match Play, Dustin Johnson defeats Jon Rahm on the final hole to earn his 5th WGC title and 15th win on the PGA TOUR.

AUSTIN, Texas – News and notes from Sunday’s final day of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, with Dustin Johnson beating Jon Rahm, 2 and 1, in the championship final at Austin Country Club.

Tiger didn’t do it. But Dustin Johnson has.

Although Tiger Woods has won more WGC events than any other player – 18, to be exact – he didn’t win the HSBC Champions in either of his two starts. Johnson, meanwhile, has won the HSBC, back in 2013. He also won the Bridgestone Invitational twice. Earlier this month, he won the Mexico Championship.

And on Sunday, he became the first player to complete the WGC career slam, winning the Dell Technologies Match Play for the first time.

“Pretty awesome,” said Johnson after his dominant week, in which he played 112 holes and never trailed after any of them. “Definitely kind of cool to be the first one to win all four. These are the biggest events besides the majors, with the best golfers in the world.”

While Dustin can’t match Tiger’s success rate at the WGCs – Tiger has won 18 of his 44 WGC starts, a 41 percent win ratio, while Dustin has won five of 29 starts, a 17 percent clip – Johnson has the second most WGC wins of anybody other than Tiger.

But though Johnson – who also moved into No. 1 in FedExCup points with Sunday’s win -- is the first to complete the WGC slam, he doesn’t expect to be the last.

“I feel like there will be some more to do it,” he said. “But I’m very, very pleased with it.”

MAYBE RAHM WILL DO IT

Jon Rahm has played just two WGC events, and already the 22-year-old budding star from Spain has made an impact. He finished tied for third behind Johnson in Mexico, and now finished solo second in Austin.

His run was nearly as impressive as Johnson’s. He won three of his first six matches in 15 holes or less. In his first 92 holes played, he trailed after just three of them. Only when Johnson grabbed the lead on the third hole and never let up did Rahm spend a significant amount of time playing catch-up – which he almost did.

Though disappointed in losing, he’ll leave Austin focusing on the positives.

“It shows me that I can compete with someone like DJ and any other player, even if I had probably one of my worst front nines possible,” Rahm said. “I’m probably going to learn a lot from this week … Unfortunately for me, today was the worst day I’ve played golf all week.”

FROM 5 UP TO SWEATING IT OUT

Johnson was 5 up through eight holes in the final and looked to be on cruise control, while Rahm had, in his terms, reached a “very steep and deep low.”

But Rahm won the next two holes thanks to Johnson bogeys. After DJ won the par-5 12th with a birdie, Rahm won three of the next four holes with birdies. That forced Johnson to hang on down the stretch, pushing him to an 18th hole that didn’t appear likely two hours earlier.

Johnson denied that he let his foot off the gas.

“I felt like I was still attaching the golf course,” he said. “You’ve got to make putts. And I felt like, especially this afternoon, it was really difficult, the wind was blowing, the greens got fast. So it was really tough to make putts.”

Rahm, meanwhile, said his tee shot on the par-4 ninth – 374 yards that set up a conventional par – helped calm him down.

“Once I collected myself after that tee shot on 9, things went a little easier,” Rahm said. “I was just waiting for Dustin to make a couple of mistakes. Luckily for me, he did, which he doesn’t usually do, and I was able to take advantage of that. And my confidence and my emotions came back to normal.”

HAAS MAKES PRESIDENTS CUP MOVE

Entering this week, Bill Haas was 20th in Presidents Cup points for the U.S. team. Thanks to his third-place finish – he beat Japan’s Hideto Tanihara 2 and 1 in the consolation final after losing to Jon Rahm in the semifinals – Haas is now 14th in points.

Considering that Haas provided the clinching point for the U.S. team two years ago in Korea – with his dad Jay as the U.S. captain -- he’d dearly love another go. But he’s not going to focus on the big picture but instead the week-to-week results.

“I try not to focus on the points list,” said Haas after his best finish in an WGC event. “We’ve got enough stress. … It’s hard not to think about it, but at the same time I don’t think it helps me to play any better to know if I’m close.

“I still have four majors and THE PLAYERS Championship, a lot of good opportunities to play well. That’s my goal – to play decent in a few of those. And if I do that, the rest will take care of itself.”

TANIHARA'S ACE

Japan’s Hideto Tanihara, seeded 54th, was the most unexpected participant to advance to Sunday. Though he lost both of his matches, he put up a tough fight, pushing Dustin Johnson to 18 holes in the semifinals, then leading the consolation match as late as the 12th hole before suffering three bogeys in his final five holes.

He also gave the crowd a big thrill at the par-3 seventh in his match against Haas, acing the 207-yard hole – the longest par 3 on the course – with an 8 iron. It’s the fourth ace in tournament history.

“The crowd, they went wild,” the 38-year-old Tanihara said. “And when everybody is happy, you tend to get happy too. So it was a great feeling.”

Tanihara, a 14-time winner on the Japan Tour, now has three top-10 finishes in 44 career starts on the PGA TOUR.

ODDS AND ENDS

Dustin Johnson won 46 and lost 23 holes this week. Jon Rahm won 42 holes and lost just 16 …

Tiger Woods was the last player to win consecutive WGC titles (back in 2013) and was the last player to win three straight WGC events. Johnson’s next opportunity to match him will be at the Bridgestone Invitational the first week of August …

Johnson had a 424-yard drive at the par-5 12th during the championship final … and came up short of Rahm, whose drive was 436 yards. “I was in the fairway,” Johnson said. “That was all I cared about.” …

Johnson made nine bogeys this week (and two doubles). Of those nine, three were at the par-4 10th, which he three-putted twice. …

Johnson joked that his only good break of the week came on the sixth hole in the final, when his tee shot drifted down the left side of the fairway and struck a TV truck. “Great parking job,” he said. …

Asked if he heard the loud noise at the 18th green as he was about to address an important chip to stay in the final match, Rahm replied, “You mean the one on my backswing?” In other words, the answer is yes.

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