MEXICO CITY – So begins the age of DJ.
That would be the preferred hot take following the broad-shouldered bomber’s second victory in as many starts to become just the sixth player to win in his first event after taking over the top spot in the world rankings.
Dustin Johnson, the man who looks like he was made in a laboratory to play golf, overcame a quirky-cool golf course, inconsistent greens and the year’s deepest field to win his 14th PGA Tour title on Sunday at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
Simply stated, he was better. Better than anyone with his iron play (first in proximity to the hole), better than all but four players in greens hit, better than all but three in driving distance, not that his length has ever been a surprise.
His only blind spot, relatively speaking, was the “goalie” guarding every hole for the better part of 2 1/2 days, which was DJ’s unique way of saying that putts that could have gone in and should have gone in, simply, had not.
But that wasn’t a problem on Sunday as he began the day in the final group, a stroke behind Justin Thomas. There was a 15-footer at the second, 5 1/2-footer at No. 6, 29-footer at the eighth and 8-footer at No. 9 – all for birdie.
Just around siesta time in Mexico City, Johnson made the turn with a four-stroke advantage, his second victory of the season and place atop the world order all but assured.
That he stumbled bringing this title to the house only adds to the style points, with Johnson losing his four-stroke advantage in four holes to Jon Rahm. But he prevailed with a late birdie at the 15th hole to reclaim the lead and a clutch par at the last to keep it, which is what truly great players do.
“Starting the beginning of last year my game really has felt solid and it hasn’t really let up any,” said Johnson, whose lead in the Official Golf World Ranking has now been extended to a decisive 2.36 points advantage. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in the game. I feel like I’m controlling my ball very well and I feel like my driver is a little straighter, which if I can drive it straight I’m going to play well every week.”
Johnson’s current run has been impressive – dominant, even. But like most hot takes, the view from 30,000 feet often provides a skewed perspective.
With a monsoon of respect, giving DJ the keys to the kingdom before the season’s first major would ignore so much.
It would gloss over the fact that Thomas already has three victories this season and said of his swing earlier this week that it made him want to “throw up” and yet he still found himself in contention late on a Sunday at one of the game’s biggest events.
That Rory McIlroy went from the trainer’s table and six-weeks of rehabilitation for a rib injury to in the WGC-Mexico hunt with a performance that the Northern Irishman admitted exceeded his own expectations.
“I was hoping to sort of improve as the week went on,” said McIlroy, who faded on Sunday with a 71 to tie for seventh in his first Tour start of 2017. “That was obviously the plan, that’s the plan every week. I hit it pretty well every day. The course changed a little bit as the week went on. I didn’t quite adjust to it.”
That Phil Mickelson is showing the kind of life that will make him much more than a novel pick at the Masters despite a tee ball that spent more time in the trees than an arborist. Lefty wasn’t entirely pleased with his tie for seventh place, but his optimism going forward is well-founded.
“This is a good tournament for me to build off of. It was disappointing yesterday, but to come back and play a good solid back nine and get a little bit of momentum now, I’m looking forward to the upcoming stretch,” said Mickelson, who at 46-years-old may still be the most entertaining player in the game.
That first-year Tour player Rahm may actually be better than advertised, as evidenced by his Sunday rally at Club de Golf Chapultepec that propelled the Spaniard into the lead late in the round until a pair of sloppy three-putts at Nos. 16 and 17 dropped him into a tie for a third.
That Jordan Spieth has finished inside the top 15 at five of his six starts this year (he was T-12 in Mexico), won at Pebble Beach by four shots and should be, regardless of the official line, the favorite next month at Augusta National.
Johnson might be the most underrated player of his generation, having won at least once every season since he joined the Tour in 2008. Only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus started their careers with that kind of consistency in the modern era.
On his way to victory, he had his golf ball get stuck in a tree just long enough to cost him a stroke at the 16th hole on Saturday, rolled in 137 feet of putts in Rounds 1 and 2 combined (16 feet less than Tyrrell Hatton rolled in just on Day 1) and began his week with a relatively pedestrian 70. Despite it all, he still claimed his fourth WGC title, second only to Woods, with a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood. But even after that performance, DJ acknowledged the champions-by-committee reality of today’s Tour.
“The competition is so good out here, they are all good players,” he said. “You look at a leaderboard and there are a couple of names you don’t want to see, mine would be one of them.”
One of them.
Winning last year’s U.S. Open turned a page in the novel that is DJ and he’s come by his lofty position atop the world heap honestly, but this is far from a one-man show. He might be the lead character in golf’s current production, but the marquee still has plenty of stars.