It wasn’t the walking away victory that it could have been, but now that it’s over, you know Dustin Johnson will take it just the same.
After the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions, Johnson held a three-stroke lead, but by the time he finished the front nine on Sunday, it had all evaporated. Scoring six straight pars on a course that had given up nearly as many birdies as we saw at the Shriners Open a few weeks ago allowed Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter right back into it.
Of course, as I wrote about earlier, Johnson needed only to avoid the big miss. At times, he looked like a beaten man as he grinded through the final round of the tournament, but he didn’t allow it to take him out of his game.
“The first five holes were not fun,” Johnson said after the tournament. “I wasn’t having too much fun at the start, especially when Graeme and Ian were birdieing every hole, it seemed like. But I knew I just needed to keep playing my game.”
That game – powerful drives that allow him short irons or even wedges into just about every hole – was on full showcase late Sunday. Perhaps the best display of it was on the par-4 16th hole. It’s not a particularly long hole, but Johnson drilled his 3-iron about 20 yards short, and his pitch-in for eagle essentially sealed the victory.
It’s no surprise that Johnson led the field this week not only in greens in regulation, but also putts per GIR. Combine power and ball-striking and you’ve got a formula for success just about anywhere.
In the end, Johnson survived a stretch of break-even golf that included his two double bogeys on Saturday by giving himself more scoring opportunities than anybody else. His 28 birdies were good for second behind Martin Kaymer, and this could be a huge building block for a star who’s expected to take his game to the next level this year. Perhaps this is finally the year that he lives up to his major championship expectations.