Johnson weaves his magic to win in Hawaii
Only someone as athletic and powerful as Dustin Johnson could take the hilly, 7,411-yard, par 73 Plantation Course and turn it into a par-three contest. And only someone like Johnson, whose personality is as placid as the west Maui winds are not, could describe as “nice” the blustery conditions that delayed the start of the Tournament of Champions for three days.
“I didn’t really have any anxiety,” Johnson said.
When the wind-shortened event finally started, he ran away from the winners-only field, posting a 54-hole score of 16-under-par 203 to win by four strokes over Steve Stricker in the first Monday start and Tuesday finish since the event relocated here in 1999.
Johnson, a former Coastal Carolina standout, closed with a five-under 68 to win his seventh PGA Tour title. At 28, he became the first tour player since Tiger Woods to win at least one tournament each of his first six years out of college.
Stricker, the defending champion, was paired with Johnson in the final round, affording him a front-row seat for the biggest show near pounding surf.
“It’s fun to watch,” said Stricker, who closed with a 69. “You never know what he’s going to do, and he’s got a lot of talent, a lot of ability.”
Stricker’s jaw dropped on the 12th hole, a downwind 420-yard par four, when Johnson nearly drove the green with a 405-yard blast. Stricker, whose drive had travelled 235 yards, caught up with Roger Maltbie, a five-time tour winner who was following the twosome as a roving reporter for NBC, and asked with a wry grin, “Did you have that in your day, Roge?”
When Johnson’s drives are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they are in the woods.
On the 13th, the smart play for Johnson would have been to use a three iron off the tee. He took his driver out without a second thought and hooked the ball into vegetation behind a fairway bunker.
“Walking off that tee, I wasn’t too happy with myself,” said Johnson, whose expression never changed.
Stricker, who had put his drive in the fairway, joined the search for Johnson’s ball. They found sunglasses, a shoe and enough mud-caked balls to fill a few sleeves before finding what they were looking for.
After giving a hand to Stricker, who had trouble climbing out of the bushes because of shooting pain in his left leg caused by a pinched nerve, Johnson surveyed his options. He had a terrible lie, but he thought he could punch it into the fairway. He tried, but the ball ended up back in the vegetation.